Repetition and the Brain

05 April 2022
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Importance of Repetition

The Plastic Brain

Why do people say the brain is plastic? Well, they are referring to neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change structurally and functionally. Structural changes refer to physical changes in the brain such as increased gray matter volume, while functional neuroplasticity refers to changes in the functions of brain regions and neurons. 

Analogy: When you go to the gym and repeatedly lift weights, your body will get stronger and gain muscle; this would be an example of a structural change in your body. You may also become better coordinated or be able to do movements that you previously were not familiar with; this would be an example of a functional change in your body. 

Changing the Brain

Now that we know that the brain can change, let’s discuss how to change it! The key is: REPETITION. Everytime we engage with a stimulus, the pathways involved in the brain become stronger. So by repeatedly reviewing the same material or performing the same actions, the connections between neurons increase in strength and new connections may form; this is an example of structural neuroplasticity referred to as synaptic plasticity. However, just as connections can be strengthened, they can also grow weaker or disappear if the pathway is not being used often or at all. This can be summed up by the phrase, “Use it or lose it.”

Neuroplasticity is also not always positive. While adopting healthy habits can lead to positive changes in the brain, repeatedly engaging in negative habits can lead to negative changes. Thus, it is important to be mindful of our actions throughout the day and critically think about how they could be helping or harming us. 

Applying This Knowledge

The power of repetition and neuroplasticity is incredible and there are many examples to show this.

  • Studying...
    • Researchers agree that we remember things better and for a longer period of time if we repeatedly engage with the material we are learning; this is called the learning effect. Studies have also shown that when material is repeatedly studied, we forget it slower than if we cram the information, even if the retention period being examined is only one week long. 
    • Tip for students: If you are trying to learn something new, it is better to review it over multiple days rather than focusing on it for a long period of time on one day.
    • Tip for teachers: Introduce students to new material in chunks and review the previous lessons before introducing the new chunk of information.
  • Recovery after a stroke...
    • Strokes cause varying degrees of brain damage which can lead to a number of functions being lost (e.g. ability to walk, movement in left arm, etc.). However, patients who have suffered a stroke are able to recover some, if not all, of the lost ability by repeatedly practicing the movements. The repetition prompts neuroplasticity to do its job and reform connections in the brain that were lost.
  • Integration of primitive reflexes...
    • To learn how neuroplasticity helps to integrate primitive reflexes, check out this previous blog post on reflexes
  • Mindfulness practice...

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