Your brain never stops changing
“We know that when you learn something, the synapses in your brain get bigger,” says professor of neuroscience, Dr Matthew Dalva. In his latest research, Dr Dalva used new microscope technology to observe how tiny clumps of proteins move around in synapses; this is neuroplasticity – your brain’s ability to form new neural connections throughout life. Dr Dalva points to findings that indicate that neuroplasticity can develop in beneficial ways when you’re learning a new language, for example – and harmful behaviours such as addiction can alter the brain in negative ways.
Alexa, Google and smartphones
The more we rely on our devices to recall information, the more we need them – it’s called ‘cognitive offloading’. In one study, participants who previously used the Internet to gain information were significantly more likely to revert to Google for subsequent questions than those who tapped into their own memory. “Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother,” says study author Dr Benjamin Storm.
What happens to the brains of astronauts after weeks or months of space travel? Researchers examined brains of astronauts before and after short and extended stays at the International Space Station and found that the brain shifted upward in the skull and visual centres in the brain were compromised – to the point where astronauts’ vision suffered after returning to Earth. But it only happened during extended missions; astronauts who spent only two weeks in space didn’t experience the same changes.