You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – or so the saying goes. Developmental psychologists like Piaget tended to assume that cognition and the corresponding brain development were complete by the age of about twenty. However, recent research into brain neuroplasticity shows that adults, even older adults, can continue to learn throughout their lives, and improve their brains in the process. Lisa Pauwels and her colleagues published a paper this month, describing the structural and functional brain changes that occur with practice of a new task. They found that older adults may be a little slower than younger ones in attaining new skills, but they were equally capable of learning, and intensive practice led to modulation of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter) and an increase in neurons and connections (neurogenesis) in the corresponding brain regions.
The brain doesn’t only respond to learning, as Sandrine Thuret describes in her TED talk (below). When you eat and what you eat, exercise and sleep all increase neurogenesis in adults.
So, if some days you are struggling with your studies, remember, it is never too late to grow some more brain!