Neuroplasticity in action

It’s likely that by now you have at least heard the term “neuroplasticity”. Our understanding of the human brain’s capacity to rewire itself has grown dramatically over the past few decades. We have written about it previously in our blog post Rewire your brain: neuroplasticity FTW!.

It’s one thing to hear about neuroplasticity. But it is something else altogether to see it in action. Today I stumbled across this youtube video:

There are lots of skills that are complex and difficult to master, for which the development of new neurological wiring through continual practice will be essential to mastery. But rarely do we see such a <em>dramatic</em> challenge to achieving the most rudimentary level of competence. Why is this bike so difficult to ride?  If we reversed the steering in a car people would very quickly be able to adjust. Anyone who has played a reasonable number of flight-simulating computer games will know how quickly that adjustment can occur, because a proportion of those games reverse the vertical control axis. Adjusting to that can be accomplished in hours. It took <em>eight months</em> for the presenter of this video to be able to ride this bike.

The challenge with reversed steering on a bike is that steering is not <em>only</em> used to control your direction, but constant small adjustments are made to maintain balance on the bike. With the steering reversed there is almost <em>no room for error</em> that would allow the brain to try an option, realise it is producing the wrong result and adjust accordingly. It is worse than learning to ride the <em>first</em> time because the brain is predisposed by existing wiring to select a set of motor responses that are the precise <em>opposite</em> of what are needed, amplifying any imbalance instead of correcting it.

…so the thing that amazes me most, watching this video, is that even under circumstances that are tremendously prejudiced to failure, the neuroplasticity of the brain makes success possible. What might your brain be capable of that may seem impossible to you today?

Bicycle leaning against a wall

“Bicycle” by fedeanimationCC BY 2.0

About Paul McQueen

Dr Paul McQueen is a Clinical Psychologist, holding a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Melbourne. He has experience working in both adult and child mental health services in Queensland and Victoria. Dr McQueen is comitted to providing high quality, evidence-based interventions for a range of mental health conditions. He specialises in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Depression.

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