Is it really possible to regain the plasticity of a young brain, and learn like a child again? Researchers say yes, and Stout brings you the how-tos.
Neuroplasticity – the ability of the brain to quickly and easily absorb new knowledge – has long been considered a province of the young. Preschoolers can learn two languages simultaneously. Child prodigies fill the musical field. Even older children and teens grasp new skills and technologies much faster than their elders.
But what if there was a fountain of youth for learning?
Richard Friedman, a clinical psychiatry professor and director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Weill Cornell Medical Center, examined some of the research in progress last year for The New York Times. In “Return to the Teenage Brain“, Friedman reviews a 2013 study by the University of British Columbia that examined the effects of a mood stabilizer known as Depakote on the memories of 24 men. The stunning conclusion? The men who received the drug instead of the placebo all showed measurable improvement on the learning task they had been assigned, suggesting that we can reopen a critical learning period that normally closes in childhood.
Before you dash off to your physician’s office for a prescription, Friedman offers a few caveats. First, the energy used keeping neural circuits open requires tremendous energy – an extended learning period could actually overload the brain. Second, you may remember new things learned, but you may also have a keener memory of things you’d rather forget, such as trauma or grief. Finally, Friedman points out, “Our very identity is enmeshed in these neural circuits. Do we really want to tamper with them at the risk of altering who we are?”
Perhaps, until science gives us a clearer answer to these questions, we might hold off on taking the pharmaceutical approach. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do right now to rekindle that childlike state of learning. Check out the list below from Jeff Cobb’s Mission to Learn post for seven great ideas to get started.
7 secrets of childlike learning that you can put into practice today:
- Take Time to Observe. Children pay attention to even the tiniest of details, which creates learning opportunities all around them. Be present in your surroundings. Purposeful observation, of human interactions or a colleague’s skill, can lead to valuable knowledge
- Go Exploring. Curiosity is too often the realm of children (and cats). Rekindle that passion to explore, whether it is a new place, new hobby, or a new career skill.
- Learn from Everyday Moments. Remember the book “Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten”? It’s true. Powerful insights into how to interact with colleagues or treat people fairly are revealed in our everyday interactions.
- Model Other People’s Good Qualities. Children imitate others often, especially admired adults. Likewise, make a list of traits you admire in others, and try to incorporate them into your life.
- Take Time to Read. Reading time isn’t just for schoolchildren. Exploring different genres can expose you to new thoughts, ideas and insights that you can apply to your own life. If you’re short on time, try audio books on your commute, or trade one email-reading break for time turning a few pages.
- Talk to Others. Children chat up anyone they see. Try doing the same, discussing events or sharing a discovery with those around you. It’s a chance to sharpen your speaking skills, and get exposure to fresh perspectives.
- Be a Hands-On Person. There’s a reason why adult coloring books are so popular. Hands-on creativity is a great way to rest and recharge the brain. Whether it’s art, music, gardening or cooking, take the time to create.
Above all, children have an openness not hampered by the fear of what others will think. That creates the freedom to learn – something more adults could benefit from and a sure way to #BringOutYourStout!