Every day we are learning. This could be a new task, different directions, a new person, or any novel piece of information. When we learn something new, this creates new connections within the brain.
Learning can strengthen existing connections through activation of the synapse between neurons. The more that activation occurs, the stronger the connection will be. A child’s brain is forming connections through learning at a rapid rate.
This process will slow as the child ages and by the time the child becomes an adult, the process is at its lowest rate. However, adults are able to continue to learn and strengthen the connections within existing synapses. Language is a good example of this process.
Each type of learning has a critical period where the ability to create connections through the formation and activation of synapses is greatest. For language, the critical period is up to age five. After the critical period, it is possible to learn a new language but it is more challenging and takes more effort to do so.
An adult has solidified connections in their language center and it will require more time and practice to create a new connection, or synapse, needed for a new language. A child under the age of five is able to learn a new language, not just their native language, easier and form a stronger connection between the various synapses needed to learn this novel language. If only every person was able to learn multiple languages at such a young age, the process would be easier and have a more lasting effect.
As people say, if you don’t use it you lose it. For adults, this is mostly true with the formation of neural connections. Throughout childhood, the brain is creating connections at a high rate then pruning the unneeded connections during adolescence. This is when the synapses become more solidified and the ability to form new connections becomes a challenge, but not impossible. The brain does have the ability to change and for new connections to form as an adult.
Learning is the key. Whether it is a new language, sudoku, a new hobby, or even brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand; these are all ways to form new connections. After all learning new things keeps life exciting but also is good for your brain.
Michelle A. Culver, LMFT