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Neuroplasticity and Positive Psychology

Neuroplasticity and Positive Psychology

Explore neuroplasticity's impact on life & learn how positive psychology practices enhance quality of life.

Riddhiman Bhattacharyya (B. Tech. F.Y.)
March, 30 2024
1828

In the intricate landscape of neuroscience, neuroplasticity stands out for its significant implications on our lives. It is defined as the ability of the nervous system to change structurally or functionally based on internal or external stimuli.

This facilitates motor and cognitive skill development and also plays an important role in adapting to changing environments, recovering from brain injuries, and aging. Herein, we delve into the mechanisms of neuroplasticity and elucidate its connection with practices of positive psychology to improve our quality of life.

brain plasticity and cognition

Image source: https://www.cognifit.com/brain-plasticity-and-cognition

Understanding the Mechanisms of Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is predicated on two major fundamental processes:

Neuronal regeneration, covering theories like synaptic plasticity and neurogenesis and Functional reorganization, covering theories like equipotentiality and vicariation. (Puderbaugh & Emmady, 2023)

1. Neuronal regeneration:

Synaptic plasticity leads to the modulation of synaptic efficacy, where synapses can amplify or change their signal transmission based on activity levels, among other things. Neurogenesis is the process by which new neurons are formed in the brain.

2. Functional reorganization:

Equipotentiality, conversely, involves the reassignment of functional areas in the cerebral cortex post-neural injury, allowing the brain to reorganize its functional architecture and overtake lost functions. Vicariation, on the other hand, is when the brain reorganizes and overtakes a new and unrelated function.

Effect of a Positive Mindset on the Quality of Life

Studies involving two long-term, longitudinal cohorts of women and men have shown that adopting a positive mindset can lead to an increase in lifespan by about 11-15% as well as raising the likelihood of living until the age of 85 (Lee et al, 2019).

There have even been studies by Segerstrom & Miller 2004 linking the effect of psychological stressors on the immune system where a vulnerability already exists. A positive outlook on life can decrease the severity of illnesses or even boost the immune system to a certain extent.

This shows that the quality of life can be directly or indirectly affected by our mindset. To capitalize on the brain's plastic potential, scientific evidence advocates for several neuro-enhancement strategies, each fostering neural adaptability and cognitive resilience:

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness meditation practices have been empirically shown to effectuate structural changes within key brain regions implicated in attentional control and emotional regulation. Functional MRI studies reveal augmented grey matter density in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, occurring with mindfulness training.

Overall, the results suggest that attentional performance and cognitive flexibility are positively related to meditation practice and levels of mindfulness. Meditators performed significantly better than non-meditators on all measures of attention. (Moore & Malinowski, 2009)

2. Lifelong Learning

The pursuit of novel cognitive engagements and skill mastery has been demonstrated to precipitate neurogenesis and bolster synaptic plasticity. The dendritic growth and synaptic proliferation observed within the hippocampus and other cortical regions facilitate cognitive agility and memory consolidation.

P. Vemuri et al, 2014 suggested that lifetime intellectual enrichment might delay the onset of cognitive impairment and be used as a successful preventive intervention to reduce the impending dementia epidemic.

3. Optimistic Outlook

D. Hecht, 2013 suggests that the deliberate cultivation of positive thought patterns and optimism may be linked to neuroplasticity. One cognitive marker of optimism may be the ability to generate vivid mental imagery of positive future events.

4. Exercise

Aerobic exercise elicits a cascade of neurotrophic factors, notably brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that impacts nerve growth, which is instrumental in promoting neurogenesis, synaptic plasticity, and vascular remodeling within the brain, noting changes in functional connectivity, basal ganglia, and the hippocampus. This not only enhances cognitive function but also augments mood and stress resilience. (Vorkapic et al, 2021)

5. Social Connectivity

Robust social networks and positive interpersonal interactions evoke the release of affiliative neurotransmitters like oxytocin and dopamine. These biochemical mediators facilitate social bonding and stress mitigation, reinforcing the neural circuits to accept positive change and adapt accordingly.

In conclusion, our journey through the wonders of neuroplasticity and positive psychology has revealed the transformative power of the mind. Adopting practices that nurture our brain's dynamic capacity can lead to significant changes in our emotional health, cognitive abilities, and overall quality of life. As we continue to explore and apply simple practices like exercise, mindfulness meditation, and lifelong learning, among many others, we open the door to endless possibilities for neuronal growth and well-being.

Key References

  • Diana Rangaves. Neuroplasticity and Positive Thinking: How They’re Connected. Retrieved from https://www.re-origin.com/articles/neuroplasticity-and-positive-thinking (2023) December 6.
  • Mark Stibich. Embrace Aging With Positive Thinking. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/positive-thinking-and-aging-2224134 (2020) February 4.
  • Puderbaugh, Matt, and Prabhu D. Emmady. Neuroplasticity. StatPearls Publishing (2023) Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557811/
  • Vemuri, Prashanthi, et al. Association of lifetime intellectual enrichment with cognitive decline in the older population. JAMA neurology 71.8 (2014): 1017-1024.
  • Segerstrom, Suzanne C., and Gregory E. Miller. Psychological stress and the human immune system: a meta-analytic study of 30 years of inquiry. Psychological bulletin 130.4 (2004): 601.
  • Moore, Adam, and Peter Malinowski. Meditation, mindfulness, and cognitive flexibility. Consciousness and cognition 18.1 (2009): 176-186.
  • Vorkapic, Camila, et al. Born to move: a review on the impact of physical exercise on brain health and the evidence from human controlled trials. Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria 79 (2021): 536-550.

 

Author:

Riddhiman Bhattacharyya

B.Tech. Medical Biotechnology, First-Year Student,

Dr. D. Y. Patil Biotechnology and Bioinformatics Institute, Tathawade,

Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune.

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