Humans are incredibly social creatures. We’ve built cities, created great works of art, and even explore the space beyond our planet. And, believe it or not, all of this is due to our ability to form bonds with each other.
Building and maintaining relationships with others isn’t just one of the most rewarding things we can do. It allows us, as a species to do what would otherwise be impossible.
Now, you may not be planning to build a spaceship to visit Mars anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean your links to friends, family, coworkers, and loved ones aren’t incredibly important. The goal of this article is to explain these bonds in relation to brain function and give examples of neuroplasticity in relationships and friendships.
THE UPS AND DOWNS
It can be difficult at times to maintain good relationships with the people around you.
Our lives are constantly changing. We move to new cities, have more obligations, and have very little time to meet our obligations. And, on top of it all, we still need to be good friends, colleagues, and partners.
The field of social neuroscience continues to advance at breakneck speeds. From this, we are seeing a clearer picture of the impact that neuroplasticity has on our ability to create, develop, and maintain social bonds – which is incredibly important for us as humans.
But what exactly is neuroplasticity and how does it affect our ability to form healthy relationships with others?
WHAT IS NEUROPLASTICITY?
The term ‘neuroplasticity’ is often used as an umbrella term.
It refers to the many changes that happen (at many levels) in our nervous system. This includes changes in the physical and chemical structures of our brain and neurons, as well as how the brain reacts to external stimuli.
However, at its most basic level, neuroplasticity is the ability of our nervous system to adapt its structure and function throughout our lifetime – in response to changes in our environment.
Neuroplasticity allows neurons to regenerate both anatomically as well as functionally. They form new synaptic connections. It’s our brain’s ability to recover and restructure itself. This “adaptive potential” of the nervous system allows the brain to recover after it’s injured. This can include direct harm to the brain or damage from health disorders. For example, neuroplasticity can help with altered structures that come from different pathologies such as…
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- Cognitive decline
- Insomnia, etc.
[Image – 1) Before training 2) Neural networks 2 weeks after stimulation 3) 2 months after stimulation]
It’s necessary for much more…
Neuroplasticity is not only used for recovering from injuries. It’s also the process when our nervous system changes and grows in response to good environmental factors. It’s the adaptation to the general changes we constantly experience.
Neuroplasticity makes it possible to learn a new route to work when you move to a new house. It helps us adapt to extreme changes in our environment, such as when we first start high school. And neuroplasticity allows us to be flexible in how we interact with the people around us as they change and grow.
EXAMPLES OF NEUROPLASTICITY IN RELATIONSHIPS
It’s no secret that people change and grow over time. This means our relationships will inevitably change over time as well. Whether it is with parents, friends, colleagues, or even romantic partners, the bonds we form and the roles we play will never stay the same.
One of the many examples of neuroplasticity is the friends we made in elementary and high school. They are not the same people today as they were when we first met them.
But it’s not only large, long-term changes that can affect how we relate to those around us. Our bubbly best friend might have a bad day. Because of this, they may not react the same way to the jokes and silliness that normally define the relationship. When we go to a work event with our partner, we need to adjust how we interact with everyone
Brain plasticity is what helps us to adjust the mental models of how we interact with people. It updates our expectations and behavior based on both short-term and long-term changes in the environment and the nature of the relationship in front of us.
If we imagine a person who did not have the ability to change their neural connections via neuroplasticity, it might look rather strange. They might still ask their best friend to play freeze tag just like they did when they were in elementary school. Or someone could have a temper tantrum at their boss when things don’t go their way.
There may also be more serious issues arising from the inability to update our mental models.
If an aging parent became ill and needed help, that “unchanging” person might not be able to adjust to the new situation. Even if their parent is very sick, they may still expect that parent to feed, clothe, and take care of them.
As we can see, our ability to require our neural pathways and build new cognitive models (for behavior based on changing dynamics in relationships) is so important in maintaining healthy social bonds.
Luckily for us, neuroplasticity is not fixed at one level throughout our lives. We can directly change it.
HOW TO “STRENGTHEN” NEUROPLASTICITY?
As with the muscles we use for physical activities, the more we use our ‘mental muscles,’ the stronger they become.
Our brains and bodies have evolved over millions of years to be efficient in the way we use the resources around us. This also means that if we don’t use a muscle very often, our body won’t spend these precious resources making it stronger. This same thing is true of the brain.
If we want to strengthen our neuroplasticity, all we have to do is exercise it regularly.
This can include daily activities like trying to remember information instead of writing it down. Or, we can use puzzles and games (like crosswords) that requires us to think and flex our mental muscles.
CogniFit’s large selection of cognitive brain training activities is also a great way to work on neuroplasticity. This is because each of our activities is developed based on the most current scientific literature on cognitive abilities and neuroplasticity.
So, if you want a brain that’s bulked up with neuroplasticity, start exercising!