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What is Neuroplasticity?

by Luke Shen

 Superpowers such as flight or telekinesis are pretty much impossible for humans to develop naturally. However, if under a circumstance in which senses are lost, the brain can adapt and adjust to these new conditions. So, in a sense, humans can gain superpowers, but at what cost?

 

The technical term for these heightened senses is called neuroplasticity. According to Britannica, neuroplasticity is the “capacity of neurons and neural networks in the brain to change their connections and behavior in response to new information, sensory stimulation, development, damage, or dysfunction.” This word was first coined by a Polish neuroscientist called Jerry Konorski, who noticed these changes in the brain. The idea is that the brain can reorganize sections that were assigned to specific functions for new purposes. This is most apparent in those who are impaired with their senses.

 

This training of sectors of the brain is a long process and occurs the most during the first few years of childhood. The brain during that time is constantly creating new synapses, or structures that allow for the electrical or chemical signal to move to other neurons. Put simply, it is similar to the process of building roads over a vast, barren landscape. The more roads there are, the more places that people can go to do different things. As humans age, neuroplasticity becomes more difficult. The key factors of neuroplasticity include repetition, time, intensity, and age. In order to build this path, being able to do a certain action over and over again, over a long period of time, in different situations is what truly shows if your brain has properly understood this action.

 

When it comes to younger children, neuroplasticity is easier because of how younger minds inherently learn better than older ones. With that said, after any permanent sensory impairment, most people will begin to have some sort of neuroplasticity occur. Visually impaired people reported heightened in all other senses, including being able to distinguish different kinds of smells, along with a better sematic memory (a long term memory that recalls different words, concepts and numbers). Additionally, the visually impaired could pinpoint where sound was coming from much more accurately than those who can see. Finally, their sense of touch could determine tactile patterns much more accurately than those that could see. The assumption is that because the visually impaired can’t see, the section of the brain allocated towards vision has been reallocated through neuroplasticity towards the other senses, boosting each’s performance. Those who are deaf also see a slight boost in vision, not necessarily in color, but in the perception of movement.

 

Regardless, those who have sensory impairment generally find themselves with slight enhancement of previous senses. In comparison to other humans, these heightened senses would be considered like that of superpowers! So, in a sense, it is possible for humans to get something close to superpowers.

 

 

 

 

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