The Ever Changing Brain
In one sense it is both good and bad at the same time. Think of it as the brain adapting to work load. Basically the more tasks you offer the brain, the more work it takes on. A good example is with the training that taxi drivers undergo in London.
To become a taxi driver, the driver must learn “The Knowledge” – that is by memory, the street locations in the main London area. This is an intense process and it can take up to three years practical training, on location, map making, with more than a dozen exams during the process.
There is no doubt that things change after all this activity, not only is the memory of the street names and locations significantly improved but the areas of the brain associated with memory appear either significantly enlarged or showing much greater activity . It’s a good example of a brain changing to work load and adapting to meet the demands placed upon it
This can work against you
There are actually three ways in which brain plasticity can work against you.
Firstly, lack of stimulation means areas of the brain tend to shut down. There is a saying that if you don’t use it you will lose it and that certainly seems to be the case. One of the issues for older people is the lack of social contact. The lack of intellectual challenge means that the brain tends to quietly idle along without ever getting challenged. I have met senior citizens who are immensely sharp and quick witted with good recall. The common denominator is that they really were very engaged in something that they were passionate about
The second area sits around the concept of negative thinking patterns. If you indulge in poor thinking on a regular basis -the brain would tend to get rather better at it. There is an old wives’ tale “be careful what you wish for because one day you may get it”. With the brain it seems that is true – you can inadvertently re-enforce failure by hard wiring your negative thoughts or behaviours. The brain cannot easily judge whether such thoughts are good or bad – it will tend to go along with whatever you tell it. In this sense you really do have to be careful what you wish for.
The third area where caution is required is that the actual effort of exercising the brain is very fatiguing. This may cause both brain fatigue and cognitive overload and it is just so unpleasant. For example many adults will tell you when they try to re-sit the school exams from 20 years in their past, how immensely tiring these seem to be. As a generalisation the brain does not enjoy being pushed too hard, most would describe the feelings as stress, overwork, or even depression.
It’s worth remembering that the effort to create new pathways is one of the most tiring parts of all the mental activity we can undertake. Overall, the young have better Neuroplasticity and are more used to the learning process. If you are older than 25 and haven’t studied recently you really will appreciate the difference.
Note: it is not the physical size of the brain that measures intelligence. It is the connectivity of the brain that gives you your intelligence, maybe 160 billion connections in all. The more intelligent brain connects more comprehensively to allow full use of the resources. This is an ongoing process.