Put simply, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and grow throughout time, dependent on its environment. The brain is a sensory driven organism. This means that it thrives and survives based on the input it receives.
The brain essentially is a relay station; the information coming in influences the information going out. So, we want to make sure our brain is wired in the best way possible.
There is a brilliant quote from the father of modern neuroscience, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, which said:
“Any man can, if he so desires, be the sculptor of his own brain.”
Cajal said that at the turn of the last century when most everything we knew about the brain came from external evaluation of the skull, physical examination and cadaver studies. In fact, Cajal was one of the first people to really study brain cells under a microscope and lay a foundation for brain science upon which we continue to build. The conventional wisdom at that time was that your brain was hardwired and what you had at birth was what you had for the rest of your life.
In recent decades we have learned that the brain is capable of change… enormous change in many cases. Neuroplasticity is the key concept behind brain training.
The picnic game exercise is just one of many examples of effective brain training. In this case, for working memory. The game is played with two or more people. It starts out with the first person saying something like “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing an apple,” or something that starts with the letter A. The second person says they’re going on a picnic and they’re going to bring an apple and something else that starts with the letter B.
The game continues on with each person reciting the items in the list and then adding an item that starts with the next letter of the alphabet. When you expand it out through the alphabet and you get to the letter Z it can be rather complicated.
There are two points to this game. Working memory and short term memory are very well connected. Short term memory is where you hold onto a piece of information for a brief period of time. If that information is worth committing to long term memory, it will do so based on repetition or importance. Importance is related to something happening that has significant impact. For example; if someone was hit by a car and they got the license plate number as the car drove off. They typically remember this without repetition do to the importance of catching the bad guy. Repetition is simply learning by doing something over and over.
The picnic game exercises working memory. Working memory is a completely different animal, yet it is still connected to short term memory. It helps you hold onto small amounts of information while you are doing something else; a critical skill for humans to navigate everyday life!
Dr. Michael Trayford is a Board Certified Chiropractic Neurologist and co-founder of APEX Brain Centers.