Throughout the line of questioning we have been following in our efforts to get "progressively less wrong" in our class wide model of the brain, a constant debate has sparked on the issue of whether brain equals behavior. If we agree that brain truly equals behavior, then we can surmise that the vastly differing human behavior must also translate to differing nuances in the brain. It is a widely conceded point that experience also effects behavior, and therefore experience must also affect the brain. On this point, I have been intrigued: are these differences in the brain mysterious; things as well theorized on by a philosopher as researched by a biologist? Or can an experience actually change the physical structure of the brain? In my web research, I found a partial answer in the concept of plasticity.
According to source (1), "Plasticity refers to how circuits in the brain change--organize and reorganize--in response to experience, or sensory stimulation." There appear be four types of stimuli to which a brain responds with change: developmental, such as in the newly formed and ever evolving brain of a child; activity dependent, such as in cases of lost senses; learning and memory, in which the brain changes in response to a particular experience; and finally injury induced, resulting from damage in the brain, as occurs in a stroke or in the well-know case of Phineas Gage. Although the particular change in the brain is dependent on the type of stimulus, brain plasticity can be widely described as an adjustment in the strength of synaptic connections between brain cells. (1)
The developmental function of brain plasticity is important not only in the world of early childhood, but also has implications for the function of an aging brain. As we age, the synaptic plasticity deceases due to the increased expression of neurotoxins in astrocytes which are responsible for cell-cell communication (2). Similarly, in youth, increased synaptic plasticity accounts for the inordinate amount of growth and learning that must occur in this stage of development.
Much research has been done on injury-induced plasticity, and continues to be done with the hopes of minimizing the effects of an injury on the brain. One case where is in brain injury due to stroke , wherein particular functions of the brain such as motor control, memory, or language may be affected. According to source (3) "a reorganization of brain functions may occur through 'uninjured' brain areas, allowing then-altered functions to be performed differently". If this function of brain plasticity can be exacerbated and emphasized, it is perhaps possible with further research and experimentation to minimize the effects of brain injury such that many or all symptoms are eliminated.
In the area of activity dependent plasticity, a study has been done comparing patients who had gone through a period of deafness and recently received cochlear implants to a control...