child deal with stressful situations
resiliently, and create a strong base for
Dr. Bryan Kolb, a neuroscientist
and professor in the Department of
Neuroscience at the University of
Lethbridge, says the most critical period
for brain formation is between the second
trimester of pregnancy and
approximately four years of age. This
is when the brain creates the links that
form our abilities to think, move and
experience things with our physical
senses. These changes continue at
a reduced pace through childhood
and adolescence, with brain maturity
typically reached by about the age of 25.
New research, however, is showing
that the brain’s ability to “rewire” itself
extends far beyond the first two decades
of life, and that it may happen in a
cientists have found
that our own thoughts
and activities are crucial
elements in brain restructuring and repair.
“The discovery that
our thoughts can change the structure
and function of our brain — even into old
age — is the most important breakthrough
in neuroscience in four centuries,” says Dr.
Norman Doidge, a professor with
the University of Toronto’s Department
of Psychiarity and author of The Brain
That Changes Itself.
To learn something new is to change
our brain architecture. We do this by
repeatedly using particular portions
of our brains in a new way. The more
we repeat the process, the more likely it
is that new brain pathways will develop.
As Doidge says, “Neurons that fire
together, wire together.”
For example, our brain architecture can
be rebuilt when breaking an addiction
or following a stroke.
This ability to change is possible
because of brain plasticity or
“neuroplasticity,” from “neuro,” our
neurons (or nerve cells), and “plastic,”
“Brain plasticity” is the brain’s capacity
to change as a result of input from the
environment. Brain circuits are built in a
bottom-up sequence during development.
As a general rule, the brain is most plastic
during the early period of development,
meaning that during this time it is the
most vulnerable to harm and the most
capable of recovery. As brain circuits
stabilize, they become more difficult —
but not always impossible — to alter.
The architecture of a healthy human
brain begins to be laid before birth.
The basic architecture of the brain
is like the construction of a home —
building begins with laying the
foundation, framing the rooms and
wiring the electrical system in an
orderly way. Our early experiences
literally shape how our brains get built.
A strong foundation in the early years
increases the chances of a healthy life.
A weak foundation increases the risk
of problems later in life.
From birth through the first few
years of life, the brain develops rapidly.
It influences all that we are and become,
and is fundamentally responsible for
how we think and feel about life and how
we interpret our experiences.
The stability of brain architecture
throughout life depends on the quality of
the foundation. Positive early experiences
build pathways in the brain that help a
our brains are constantly adapting,