What is neuroplasticity?

I was asked this question on Quora:

Can you explain to a layman what neuroplasticity entails?

Neuroplasticity is the umbrella term for all of the brain’s mechanisms for learning and memory.

Since the average layperson already knows about learning and memory, I’m not sure whether there are any interesting implications.

Unless of course you are surprised that the brain is involved in learning and memory. Then the implications are vast. 🙂

I prefer the two-word term “neural plasticity” to “neuroplasticity”, because “neuroplasticity” is becoming an irritating buzzword that makes the concept sound more complicated than it really is. “Plasticity” just means changeability — like how plastic can be easily bent and molded. The mere fact that the brain is plastic should be fairly obvious — what is tricky is understanding how exactly the plasticity works.

You should be very skeptical of products, apps, foods and practices that are advertised as boosting or enhancing neuroplasticity. Such uses of the term “neuroplasticity” are typically just opportunistic hype. (Another term that is often used in misleading ways “brain training”.)

The neuroscience of learning and memory is quite complex, so there are no reliable quick fixes or short-cuts.

Stay healthy, have a balanced and diverse diet, exercise, and get enough sleep. Beyond that, there are no magic tricks for better learning and memory.

Ultimately, in order to acquire skills you have to practice repeatedly, using the tried-and-tested techniques that experts have developed over the generations. And when I say “experts” I mean experts in the skill you are interested in acquiring, not experts in neuroscience or psychology. The field is too new for brain scientists to give advice.

Here’s some more info on neural plasticity:


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