Diamond in the Rough World of Neuroscience

We have the ability to change our brains. Throughout life, even into old age, new neural connections can be formed. However, the idea the brain can change, called brain plasticity, is relatively new. Before 1963, scientists theorized that the brain remained static after birth and environment played no role in its potential.

The woman who changed the conversation around brain plasticity, Marian Diamond, professor emerita of integrative biology, University of California, Berkeley, was the subject of “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond,” a documentary that aired this week on PBS.

Diamond focused on proving that the brain is shaped by environment, not just genetics. She performed an experiment where one group of rats were kept in enriched cages, with toys and other rats to socialize with, while another group lived in impoverished cages, with no other rats or objects to interact with. Rats housed in enriched cages had brains that were six percent larger than the rats in impoverished cages. She reacted to this finding by running across the campus to tell her research partner the results. “This will change science,” he told her. And it did.

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Photo courtesy of Luna Productions

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New in Cerebrum: What Makes Me, Me?

Cerebrum-June-Indivuality

The question of how individual differences in behavior and personality develop—especially in terms of the interaction between genes and the environment—has proved to be a formidable challenge in neuroscience. In “One of a Kind: The Neurobiology of Individuality,” the featured Cerebrum article for June, Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., impressively summarizes mounting new imaging evidence that suggests brain circuits involved in our emotional responses are highly plastic and change with experience, affecting our disposition. He also points to new research that suggests that psychological interventions can further harness brain plasticity to promote positive behavioral changes—changes that increase resilience, well-being, and altruistic behavior.

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