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Culture and Neuroplasticity

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Pamela Barnett

on 11 October 2017

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Transcript of Culture and Neuroplasticity

"We are the only animals that shape the environments that shape our brains."

The Brain Shapes Culture
We create the tools and activities of our culture
Culture Shapes the Brain
e.g., London's elite Black Cab taxi drivers
Signature Activities Rewire the Brain
The Moken of the Andaman Sea
When Cultures Collide
Between Cultures - the Mediating Brain
Technology, Culture and the Brain
Experience Changes the Brain
Rewired Brains
Shared signature activities - patterns of behaviour and interactions
Shared patterns of thinking
Shared ways of understanding the world
Shared ways of understanding experience
Shared cultural models may be explicit, implicit, reasoned, or taken for granted.
How does the way we use social media convey the shared values, behaviours and perspectives of our cultural group?
Humans grow roughly 100 billion neurons
"We are the only animals that shape the environments that shape our brains."
We create culture, but culture also creates us
Bruce Wexler, author of Brain and Culture, in an interview with Michael Merzenich
Culture and Neuroplasticity
Our Brains Are Different From Our Ancestors' Brains
The hunter-gatherer brain was plastic
Chimps have one-third our brain size
The number of synaptic connections made possible by 100 billion neurons far outnumbers the particles of the known universe.
This brain power helps to explain humans potential for creativity, contemplation, adaptation, and change.
Human neurons are "basically identical" to the neurons of other animals
Some Brain Facts
The Brain That Creates Culture Is Altered By It
Dramatically different signature activities dramatically restructure and reorganize our basic brain modules by
Visual Communication, Language Development, and the Brain
Human creativity and adaptation to changing environments developed and strengthened brain modules
It reorganized its structure and functions to respond to human creativity and changing conditions
Basic brain modules are specific nuclei or processing areas in the brain that developed to accomplish specific tasks, including language
Basic brain modules have undergone dramatic changes
The processes of creating and developing human cultures
Early forms of visual communication formed and strengthened links between visual and motor functions
Cave drawings, hieroglyphics and other logographic scripts were followed by phonetic alphabets, reading and writing
These latter forms created and strengthened new synaptic connections to process image, sound and meaning of letters,
as well as motor movements, eye-hand coordination, etc.
New Media Create Specialized Brain Modules
Different brain areas are involved in hearing speech and reading it
Different comprehension centres are involved in hearing words and reading them
Each new medium of communication creates new sensory and semantic experiences
Each new medium creates and strengthens different circuits in the brain
forming new pathways
creating new synapses
developing new brain processes
replacing older specializations with those required by the signature activities of new or changes environments
Technology and Memory
Oral Traditions and Memory
Some experts believe the human brain has a limitless memory capacity
Literacy reduces reliance on human memory
One consequence has been a decrease in human memory capacity
Use it or lose it
Electronic media have further reduced memory capacity
To increase human memory and speed of recall today, we have to be motivated
What is Culture?
Shared knowledge and shared patterns of thought and behaviour created within a group for perceiving, interpreting, expressing, and responding to the world around them.
Age, gender, ethnicity, profession, social class, etc. are some cultural indicators / demarcators.
Historically created models for living learned from shared history and belief systems, and shared from infancy, through socialization
The brain changes and is changed by it's environment
This makes us similar
It also makes us different

People create their culture
Cultural patterns and structures are self-maintaining
Shared worldviews and collective cultural expressions reinforce cultural identity
Cultures produce the structures that identify, maintain and transmit them from generation to generation:
symbols* and values*
tools and artefacts
ideas and traditions
interpretations* and perspectives*
* the essential differences between cultures today
"The essence of a culture is not its artifacts, tools, and other tangible cultural elements but how the members of the group interpret, use, and perceive them"
a collective forming of mind that distinguishes one group of people from another.
We Create the Tools and Activities of our Culture
We maintain cultural patterns and structures that reinforce our cultural identity
We reproduce and transmit cultural symbols, values, interpretations and perspectives from generation to generation
"We shape our tools, and thereafter, our tools shape us"
Marshall McLuhan
Shared patterns
Shared history
The brain produces the cognitive, behavioural and material elements of culture
The brain is changed by the patterns of thought, behaviours and activities practiced in our culture
Both Al Gore and Norman Doidge have reinforced this point persuasively in course resources
The more years they spend driving their cabs in London, the larger the size of their hippocampus
associated with spatial representations
turns short-term to long-term memory
What we can and cannot perceive depends, to a significant degree, on culture
lower their heart rate to dive much deeper
remain much longer underwater, without diving equipment, than most divers
control the shape of their lenses and the size of their pupils to see clearly, without goggles, deep under water
acquired during a person's lifetime
Perceptual Learning
it can be taught - like reading and writing
is not a genetically evolved trait
It was reported that their perceptual abilities, rooted in their cultural knowledge, enabled the Moken to survive the 2004 tsunami
e.g., intergenerational conflicts
Culture shock is brain shock
Between cultures
Within a culture
e.g., colonialism
Acculturation is Brain Change
learning, adjusting, and adapting to new environments and cultures
an initial honeymoon period
anxiety and rejection of the new culture
Initial Stages
Stages of Adjustment
The "Plastic Paradox"
Brain change may be positive/negative
May also lead to inflexible mindsets
Long-established neuronal pathways are not easily undone
The Challenge
The Reality of Neuroplasticity
Change is generally difficult and effortful
Focus, attention and persistence make lifelong, positive change possible
Subtractive and Additive Plasticity
Rewiring the Brain
The brain gradually lets go or unlearns some old habits of mind
It also learns to see and think in different ways
Age does not correlate with rigid mindsets
Younger people can be dogmatic
Older people can be open-minded and flexible
Age and Mindsets
other social issues
socio-economic class

Culture is ...
Culture and Perception
We perceive and understand the world through our culture
changes the physical structures of the brain
reorganizes how areas of the brain work together to process sensory input - e.g., seeing
determines our worldviews, values and how we think about the world
reorganizes higher level cognitive activities
Culture and Memory
In oral traditions, griots and memory keepers develop extraordinary memories
In technology-dependent societies, specialists use technology to supplement memory
At the Core
ideas, patterns of thoughts, worldviews
artefacts, tools, technologies
Bruce Wexler
Brain and Culture
e.g., seeing, language, memory
What if . . .
I apply my understanding of neuroplasticity and growth mindset to more consistently approach life and career changes with an open mind?
Cultures Produce Different Ways of Seeing
wide-angle perspective
narrow lens perspective
"wholeness" of things
separates out dominant element
beyond conscious control
dependent on brain circuits and maps
The Bicultural Brain
People learn to perceive differently when they change cultures
Often they learn to perceive in ways that reflect both cultures
Iconic images or context prime or prompt the bicultural brain
"We see with our brains, not with our eyes"
The brain actively selects and processes the stimuli it receives to make sense of the world
"Each time the plastic brain acquires culture and uses it repeatedly, there is an opportunity cost: the brain loses some neural structure in the process, because plasticity is competitive."
Norman Doidge
The Brain That Changes Itself
Plasticity is competitive, but brain change is not inherently positive nor negative
Plasticity is neutral
Technology-Driven Brain Change
A healthy skepticism about the effects of technology on culture and society may alert us to the possible negative impact of technology on the brain.
Changed Brains - For Better / For Worse
Environment, including signature activities, influences and directs brain development
The ways we use and relate to everyday technologies enable healthy brain development or do the opposite
A young brain is particularly vulnerable during its critical period of development
Modern neuroscience has linked the increase in ADT to
However, ADD is generally believed to be genetic ADT is learned behaviour
Attention deficit traits (ADT) have reportedly often been misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder (ADD)
may relate to difficulties paying attention
Research shows a correlation between brain problems and early exposure to TV between one and three years
Technology and the Young Brain
Although television is not by definition harmful, caregivers today need to balance the benefits of "educational television" with the effects of extensive television viewing on the extremely vulnerable brains of infants and young children
The signature activities of the culture shape the brain
may relate to controlling impulses later in childhood
ADT appears similar to the symptoms of ADD
the extensive TV viewing by toddlers
the proliferation of electronic media and
the consequent changes to the brain
- particularly on their ability later in life to focus and pay attention
Rewired Brains
Technology and Your Brain
The adult brain is also vulnerable
Acquiring new signature activities reorganizes our brain and shapes our mind
Brain change results from conscious effort
Often we are unaware of the effects of change
Plasticity is competitive, with "opportunity cost" as well as gain
Electronic media change our brain structurally and functionally
Electronic media activate the "orienting response" to compel our attention
Video games offer regular challenges and rewards that trigger dopamine, resulting in pleasure and euphoria
Paying attention in slower-paced "real world" situations becomes more difficult
Focused attention requires strong motivation and effort

"The Social Brain"
Listen to brain scientist Daphne Bavelier in this TED Talk. She presents an informative, balanced and positive perspective on video games and the brain.

You don't want to miss this video...!
Balancing the Pros and Cons on the Cost/Benefits Scale
For CC and transcript of this video go to "The Social Brain" @ https://www.youtube.com/user/SentisDigital/videos
To view this video with CC, go to http://www.ted.com/talks/daphne_bavelier_your_brain_on_video_games?language=en
developed and strengthened new and different brain functions and processes
created and strengthened new synapses and pathways
Food for thought
Diverse brains are diverse ways of experiencing, living and being in the world

(CARLA - The Center for Advanced Research in Language Acquisition)
Are there signature activities that encourage us to "outsource" memory?
Change happens in both directions
Full transcript