How Neuroplasticity Improves Relationships
Building and maintaining relationships with others can be one of the most rewarding and beneficial things we can do. Humans are incredibly social creatures who have been able to build cities, create great works of art, and even explore the space beyond our home planet. And all of this was due to our ability to form bonds with each other and do things which would otherwise be impossible to do alone.
Now, you may not be planning to build a spaceship to visit Mars anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the relationships you have with your friends, family, coworkers, and loved ones aren’t incredibly important to living a happy and fulfilling life.
But it can be difficult at times to maintain good relationships with the people around you. People move, situations change, we have more obligations and less time to meet them, and through all of this we still need to be able to be good friends, good colleagues, and good partners to those who are closest to us.
As the field of social neuroscience continues to advance at breakneck speeds, we are seeing a clear picture of the impact that neuroplasticity has on our ability to create, develop, and maintain the social bonds that are so important to who we are as human beings.
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 to refer to the many changes that happen at many levels in the nervous system including changes in physical and chemical structures of the brain and neurons as well as how the brain reacts to external stimuli. However, at its most basic level, neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, 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, and to form new synaptic connections. It is the ability of our brain to recover and restructure itself. This adaptive potential of the nervous system allows the brain to recover after disorders or injuries and to reduce the effects of altered structures due to pathologies such as Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cognitive deterioration, Alzheimer’s, dyslexia, ADHD, insomnia, etc.
But neuroplasticity is not only used for recovering from injuries. It is also the process by which our nervous system changes and grows in response to beneficial environmental factors and how it adapts to changes in general.
Neuroplasticity is what makes it possible to learn a new route to work when you move to a new house. It is what helps us adapt to extreme changes in our environment such as when we first start high school. And neuroplasticity is what helps us to be flexible in how we interact with the people around us when they change and grow.
How Does Neuroplasticity Affect the Way We Interact with Others?
It’s no secret that people can change and grow over time. The friends we made in elementary and high school are not the same people today as they were when we first met them, for example. And 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 in each relationship will change over time.
But it’s not only large long-term changes that can affect how we relate to those around us. Our happy-go-lucky best friend can have a bad day and may not react the same way to the jokes and silliness that normally define the relationship. We may need to adjust how we interact with our romantic partner when we attend an event where they will be surrounded by their work colleagues.
Brain plasticity is what helps us to adjust the mental models of how we interact with people, updating our expectations and behavior based on both short-term and long-term changes in the environment and the nature of the relationship.
If we can imagine a person who did not have the ability to change their neural connections via neuroplasticity, it might look rather strange seeing them interacting with the people closest to them. They might still be asking their best friend to play freeze tag just like they did when they first met years before in elementary school. While there are many silly examples like this, there may also be more serious issues arising from the inability to update their mental models.
If their aging parent became ill and required their help, they might not be able to adjust to the new situation and may still expect their 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 our relationships is paramount to maintaining healthy social bonds with those around us.
But luckily for us, neuroplasticity is not fixed at a certain level throughout our lives.
Can We ‘Strengthen’ Our 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 thousands and millions of years to be efficient in the way we use resources. This means that if we don’t use a muscle very often, our body won’t spend precious resources making it stronger. This same thing is true of the brain.
Luckily, the more we use something, the stronger it becomes and the easier it is for use to use it in the future.
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 rather than always writing it down and forgetting about it or partaking in puzzles and games like crosswords that requires us to think and flex our mental muscles.
CogniFit’s large selection of cognitive brain training activities are also a great way to work on neuroplasticity since each of our activities is developed based on the most current scientific literature into cognitive abilities and neuroplasticity.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in psychology, Scott went on to work as a teacher and educational counselor while working towards his master’s degree. He has spent several years working with children and adults and has personal experience with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, Dyslexia, and Depression.