ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind had a two part series on the implications of neuroplasticity – particularly the discovery that the brain can physically ‘rewire’ itself through adulthood, albeit in a more limited way in comparison to the process that occurs during childhood.
I found the second part a little more satisfying than the first as it’s a bit more focused, but it’s also interesting as it mostly discusses the relationship between neuroplasticity and psychotherapy.
The interviewee is psychiatrist Norman Doidge who is obviously quite a committed Freudian and argues than many of Freud’s ideas can be now understood in terms of neuroplasticity.
Some of his comments are provocative, some innovative and others a little too much like dogma re-interpreting modern neuroscience, but it’s a fascinating conversation none-the-less.
One of the difficulties with the term ‘neuroplasticity’ is that it’s actually fairly vague. It is often applied to normal neuronal changes (during memory formation, for example) to the growth of new neurons (neurogenesis) to the changes in activation after brain injury seen on neuroimaging studies and to improvements in abilities after brain injury even when no direct measurement of the brain has taken place.
This means it can be all things to everyone and easily fits into any other explanation of change without necessarily adding anything.
We know that neuroplasticity happens. Saying how it happens is key, and a measure of a good explanation is where this knowledge helps us understand the cognitive and behavioural changes better.
Indeed, Doidge does a good job of discussing how various forms of neuroplasticity might reflect different types of behavioural changes, which makes the programme time well spent.