With a number of recent news articles referring to neuroplasticity (also called brain plasticity), and neurogenesis interchangeably (they aren’t the same thing), we thought it would be useful to highlight the differences between the two terms and offer a couple of working definitions:
Neurogenesis is the creation of new brain cells (neurons). Neurogenesis is a very active process in infants and small children – this is why the human brain more than triples in weight from birth to the early teens. Much of this weight increase occurs in the cortical layers, responsible for a variety of tasks like language, learning, logic, and social awareness. A very limited amount of neurogenesis can occur during adulthood, typically in the hippocampus, an area involved in memory formation and storage.
Neuroplasticity is an “always on” process that reshapes and fine tunes (both strengthening & pruning) the more than 100 trillion neural connections (synapses) that exist in the human brain. Each single neuron can receive signals from 5,000 – 10,000 other neurons through dendrite connections:
A single neuron has only one axon to transmit signals, so it tends to “listen” to input from many of its dendrite connections before sending a signal of its own. Neuroplasticity is the biological method for how the brain responds to its environment – learning the skills and adaptive behavior necessary to survive.
Over time, this pattern of learned behavior, skill acquisition, and memory is sometimes also known as experience and wisdom.
Read also: The Enduring Myth of Using Only 10% of Our Brains