Last updated on September 22nd, 2023.
Neuroscientists are continuing to discover more about how the human brain changes with age. As these discoveries are shared, the concept of brain plasticity has become a mainstream topic. There’s no better place to learn about the latest and greatest discoveries and ideas other than Ted.com.
“Ted Talks” found on the website are a fantastic resource for learning about curious and cutting-edge topics. Ted is an acronym for technology, entertainment, and design. There are plenty of Ted Talks on brain plasticity, but these five are extra awesome.
- After Watching This, Your Brain Will Not be the Same
- How Neuroplasticity Helps Us Shape Who We Are
- Read, Play, and Laugh – Neuroplasticity and Stress Resilience
- Improving our Neuroplasticity
- Brain Plasticity: A Mental Health Renaissance
If you’re interested in brain plasticity and want to learn more, stick around. Here you’ll find the five most awesome Ted Talks on brain plasticity. Just keep reading.
What is Brain Plasticity, and Why is it so Important?
You may be wondering what is brain plasticity and why it is so important. It is a concept explaining how the brain modifies itself when exerted upon by stimuli. It’s the rewiring of your brain from learning and practicing or compensating after an injury. Plasticity allows the brain to grow and shrink based on behavior.
We can’t overstate the importance of the brain plasticity theory . Before this realization, the common thinking was that around age eighteen, our brains stopped growing. With the understanding that the brain is dynamic and continuously changing, we can adapt our behavior to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.
5 Awesome Ted Talks on Brain Plasticity
After Watching This, Your Brain Will Not Be the Same
Lara Boyd, PT, Ph.D., is a professor, Neuroscientist, and Physical Therapist at the University of British Columbia. She presented, After Watching This, Your Brain Will Not Be the Same, at TEDx Vancouver in 2015.
Dr. Boyd starts by debunking the myth that our brains don’t change after childhood. She also dispels the concept that humans only use parts of their brain at a given time and is dormant when we are at rest.
Her research determines that our behaviors are continually changing our brains. These three changes can work independently but usually, work together in support of learning.
Neuroplasticity is key to the three basic types of change:
- A chemical change is a quick and short-term improvement of motor skills. Repetitive movements or activities increase the amount of chemical signaling in the brain. Think of shooting a basketball at a practice. The more you repeat the action, the better you become.
- Structural change occurs by physically transforming the connection between neurons. This type of change is long-term and develops through multiple practice sessions. You may not improve your basketball shot from one practice to another, but in the long run, you gradually get better.
- Functional change happens when you use different regions of your brain to complete a complicated task. Your brain recognizes how d regions are working together and shift processes to create networks.
Neuroplasticity varies by individual and can be limited, but the overarching idea is that behavior and practice drive change. Dr. Boyd concludes by saying, “Go out and build the brain you want.”
How Neuroplasticity Helps Us Shape Who We Are
This Ted Talk starts with a story about a woman admitted to a hospital with complaints of nausea and vertigo. After a scan of her brain, doctors discovered that she didn’t have a cerebellum. How is it possible for a person to live everyday life, marry, and have children without the part of her brain that controls balance, coordination, and speech?
Neuroplasticity allowed the rest of her brain to compensate for her lack of a cerebellum, where fifty percent of our brain cells reside. Her brain learned how to rewire itself!
By using four simple steps, you can change neural pathways and create structural change in your brain:
- Assess bad brain behaviors
- Reinforce new behaviors
- Visualize the result
- Act upon it
If you can change behaviors and the associated emotions, you can be the architect of your own life.
Dr. Vermeulen also demonstrates a couple of entertaining examples of how neuroplasticity works. One of those examples is explained later in this article.
Read, Play, and Laugh - Neuroplasticity and Stress Resilience.
Gautam Ullal, MBBS, MAMS, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine. He presented his Ted Talk, Read, Play, and Laugh – Neuroplasticity and Stress Resilience, at TEDx AUCMed in 2019.
Dr. Ullal uses the analogy of hurricane Irma that hit his home country of St. Maarten in 2017. He equates the disaster of a hurricane to life in the sense that disaster is inevitable. Just like the homes on St. Maarten, we can build minds that are disaster-proof.
He explains how we can trick our minds into misunderstanding our physiology by telling a story about crossing a suspension bridge. Sweaty hands and heart palpitations equate to a fear of heights. But, when approached on the bridge by a beautiful psychologist, the same physiological response changes to attraction.
In another story, Dr. Allal speaks about the immense stress he encountered in medical school. What he discovered is the effect of physical activity and laughter on brain plasticity. His recommendation for hard-working students is that you’ll perform better on exams by breaking up your study time with a walk and a laugh.
The takeaway from this talk is a quote from the doctor’s granddaughters. At the end of their conversations, they like to tell him, “Don’t forget to laugh!”
Improving our Neuroplasticity
Dr. Kelly Lambert is a Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Richmond. She presented a fascinating Ted Talk entitled Improving our Neuroplasticity at TEDx Bermuda earlier this year.
Dr. Lambert coined the term, behaviorceuticals, to describe how brain plasticity can replace our current billion-dollar pharmaceutical industry for depression.
She works with rats and has a variety of stories about them. Her lab has worker rats, trust-fund rats, city rats, and country rats. Each type of rat is motivated, or not, for the reward of a Fruit Loop. Based on a rat’s level of stimulation, their brains are plastic, and they learn. Some rats can even drive a car!
According to the doctor, the need for improved brain plasticity is a relatively new problem. She explains that the primary purpose of moving our bodies by design. Prosperity and a more sedentary lifestyle are a mismatch to our brain’s purpose.
Our ancestors didn’t sit around watching television or work at a computer all day. Using the example of her grandmother in Alabama, Dr. Lambert lays out the case for working with our hands and being physically active as a behaviorceutical solution for happiness.
Brain Plasticity: A Mental Health Renaissance
Along with his brother, Dr. Hani Akasheh is co-founder of Human Energy Management based in Jordan. Dr. Akasheh is the presenter of multiple Ted Talks. His talk, Brain Plasticity: A Mental Health Renaissance, given at TEDx PSUT in 2019, is an inspiration to anyone wanting to change their life using brain plasticity.
In the words of Dr. Akasheh, “The world you create, creates you.” He explains how all change is inevitable with practice because the brain is a responsive muscle.
Using the term neurogenesis, the doctor describes the creation of brain cells through repetitive practice. Neurogenesis physically grows the brain. The opposite of brain cell generation is synaptic pruning, which happens when we no longer use specific brain cells. The brain, or a region of it, shrinks is you don’t use it.
If you have ever practiced and become skilled at an activity, the part of your brain responsible will be larger. When you stop practicing and lose that skill, that same region of your brain will shrink. There is not a better example of brain plasticity than this.
Dr. Akasheh believes that mental health is at the heart of all our problems. People who suffer from stress have a prefrontal cortex that is shrinking, while a person who meditates and practices mindfulness grows their prefrontal cortex. Your brain is capable of change if you practice different behaviors.
What Are Some Examples of Brain Plasticity?
Examples of brain plasticity are everywhere. Any time you practice a new habit or learn a new skill, brain plasticity is responsible. The more complex the task and the effort required to complete it determine the level of brain growth.
London Cab Drivers
Some of the Ted Talks listed above mention London cab drivers as an example of brain plasticity.
Every cab driver in London is required to pass a test known as The Knowledge. These cabbies don’t use Google Maps to navigate. They must study the streets and locations of the entirety of London for four years to obtain a license to drive those iconic black cabs.
The test led researchers at University College of London to scan the brains of cabbies before and after obtaining the Knowledge. What they discovered was that people who passed the test had a larger posterior hippocampus than initial scans showed. The hippocampus governs spatial navigation and long-term memory.
After studying the brains of people who didn’t complete the process and others like bus drivers, they found that their brains didn’t have the enlarged hippocampus.
The results of this study prove that it is possible to change your brain’s anatomy through learning.
Activities that Show Brain Coordination
Dr. Vermeulen from earlier demonstrated neuroplasticity by having his audience clap their hands together in front of their face. The next step is to cross your hands over with one touching your nose and the other touching the opposite ear.
Keep clapping your hands and repeating the touch by switching hands on your nose. You’ll notice that it can be awkward at first, but after a few repetitions, you get the hang of it. The harder you try, the faster you will become proficient at it.
Learning to coordinate this exercise is brain plasticity at work.
What Age is the Brain Most Plastic?
The first years of life determine the basic structure of your brain. When a child reaches age six, her brain is ninety percent developed. According to Dr. Akasheh, children who experience stress anxiety at home have a larger amygdala, which elicits the fear response.
Many mental health problems are the result of stress and anxiety in early childhood, while the brain is developing fastest. The circuits of your brain get their initial wiring as a child. During this period, the brain is most plastic. Rewiring as an adult is possible, but it takes behavior change and practice.
There is a mission statement on the Ted website that says everything you need to know about Ted Talks and brain plasticity.
“We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately the world.”
We know that every individual has the power to create the change they desire, and brain plasticity proves it. It’s about having the will to do it and the steps to achieve goals, to get what you desire!