Sunday, September 25, 2011

On brain age and development

Between the ages of 20 and 90 we lose around 10% of our neurons; this comes out to about 85,000 neurons perishing every day (Ward). Is this a bad thing? Neurons are the highway on which brain function travels. Wouldn’t it make sense that having more of them would essentially make us smarter, and more functional beings?

While this may indeed be the case, I would venture to say that there’s a possibility that it is not the case. It very well could be, and I would assume this to be true, that as we grow and learn and mature, so does our brain. This learning may as a side effects shed extraneous, loose functioning neurons in favor of a stronger connection with a more equipped neuron. Maybe when we need more neurons because just like us, our brains are exploring the best and fastest ways to function.

I recently read an article that discussed a study using a simple finger, piano exercise. They found that this exercise, performed two hours a day, for five consecutive days, not only improved performance of the exercise but also “resulted in an enlargement of primary motor areas representing the finger muscles” (Slagter, Davidson and Lutz). Just imagine that over the next 70 years your brain is going to record everything you do, and will experiment with new pathways in which it can send information. I am 22 years old, so I consider myself well on my way to developing a stream line well lubricated and functioning brain, with no excess weight.


Ward, Jamie. (2010). The student’s guide to cognitive neuroscience. New York: Psychology Press.

Heleen A. Slagter, Richard J. Davidson, and Antoine Lutz (February 10, 2011). Mental Training as a Tool in the Neuroscientific Study of Brain and Cognitive Plasticity. PubMed.


  1. In your entry, you suggest that honing your neurons and the associated connections will lead to a more stream-lined cognitive experience. What do you think about the new kinds of software that are being developed to promote this kind of thing very early in infants? (Baby Einstein, etc.) Is it ever too early to start learning things like this?

  2. As an older returning student I am depending upon brain plasticity in rebuilding my learning capabilities. I have heard of people returning to school and even earning advanced degrees well into their mature years. So I am hopeful that a return to school will be productive and that lifetime learning is possible.

    So, my question is: are you aware of any research regarding mental training that improves cognitive abilities relative to ones occupation, regardless of that occupation? Think of this as relevant to older employees who desire staying competitive and to remain working past the typical age range of retirement, even in jobs requiring a high degree of cognitive ability.