A Note from Dr. Greenstein
What value does neuroscience hold for parents, teachers and educational professionals?
For those interested in child development, education and parenting, three key areas of neuroscience raise questions for us: Affective, Biological and Cognitive neuroscience aka the ABC's of Neuroscience. These three regions of research study the human brain and the nervous system in terms of systemic functions in human health and longevity, human behavior, human relationship, and human learning.
Based on more than a century of neuroanatomical and neurobiologic research we know that the physical structure of the brain grows like a branching tree, and is altered through:
Early developmental branching growth of nerve tissue is called "neurogenesis." Later branching growth is referred to as "neuroplasticity” – the brain’s neurologic capacity to reorganize itself and change through one's experiences, for example, find new ways to learn math, master playing a new instrument or skills necessary to recover from a concussive athletic injury.
The role of emotion in learning?
Study the work of any of the top Cognitive and Affective neuroscience researchers (Kandel, Damasio, Le Doux, Gazzinga or Ramachandran) and you’ll discover a powerful new way to understand the role value and emotion play in learning and memory.
Value points to the importance we place on the pain or pleasure impact of any experience. Emotion refers to the cognitive and sensory response we have to pleasure and painful experiences.
Following this logic, we embed memory that our brain selects for value and emotional currency. In other words, we best remember things, experiences, people, and idea that mean something to us (for better or worse!).
Q: How is neuroplastic change measured?
A: By change in size and density of neural tissue!
With new insights gained into neuroplastic growth, there is increased effort to raise community awareness of the ABC’s of neuroscience and of the impact learning and experience has on our brain’s capacity to change throughout life. This is exciting knowledge!!
From ABC to D & E!
In the last twenty years, the fields of Developmental and Epigenetic neuroscience have contributed to rapid development of understanding child development and the impact parenting has on that development.
Developmental neuroscience looks at the stages of anatomical growth as well as the cellular branching structure of neurogenesis, especially in our young. Just like stages of cognitive and emotional growth, (claimed in the literature more than a century ago) neuroscience professionals also recognize developmental stages of neurological growth, e.g. our neurological readiness for moving from sensory-motor integration to adept abstract reasoning.
By comparison, epigenetic research focuses on the organization and regulation of our gene expression and the effect gene expression has on future heredity of traits. Although each person is born with a specific genome (nature), the degree to which particular genes express themselves can be shaped by external factors (nurture). This raises new and challenging questions for epigenetic, and developmental neuro research.
While the field of epigenetic research is young (consider the recent 2003 mapping of the entire human genome), scientists have already shown evidence that specific human behaviors -- obesity, child abuse -- get passed on through genetic lines.
Scientists have called this century “the century of the brain.” It is, indeed, a thrilling time for neuroscientists and our human community who will benefit from research. With technological advance in EEG and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), scientists can now see our active brain at work, asking “What does our brain look like when we love, when we make a laugh, cry or make a decision? Which regions of the brain “light up” when we imagine a starship in the sky, or when we recall a loved one?”
Beyond deepening our understanding of how the brain functions in correlation to human behavior, emotions, imagination and thought, neuroscience is the epitome of interdisciplinary research, bringing together various branches of the so-called “hard” and ‘soft” sciences, humanities, economics, engineering, product design and even computing and info-sciences.
This unprecedented level of collaboration across a broad spectrum is increasing the speed of discovery while leading to more inquiries into how humans work, rest and play, how we remember, how we imagine, how we love and how we make crucial decisions.
What does all this knowledge mean for learning, for teaching, for parenting, for friendship, or for those of us who mentor others in professional educational community? The drive to find answers to these questions fuels the ABC’s of neuroscience.