Richard G. Petty, MD

Growing Your Brain

Several years ago we learned that London taxi drivers grew a small part of their hippocampus while learning “The Knowledge,” a detailed map of the streets of the city. Unlike most American cities, London is like a rabbit warren that has been growing organically for two thousand years. Despite the Great Fire of 1666, and the best efforts of Hitler’s Luftwaffe, the basic illogical structure has just become more complex over the centuries. The hippocampus is intimately involved in memory, navigation and in constructing a map of your surroundings. It has also been established that professional musicians and people who use Braille, all have increases in the size and complexity of a specific region of the brain.

We now learn from researchers in Germany that medical students show an increase in the amount of grey matter in the posterior part of the hippocampus and also in regions of the parietal lobes while studying for their exams. It is calculated that a medical student learns around 6,000 new words during his or her training, so it is no surprise that the brain changes to accommodate all this new information.

This new finding just adds to our knowledge about the plasticity of the brain. Even if you do not have to learn 6,000 new words and innumerable new concepts and practical techniques, it is worth knowing that learning any new knowledge or skills will likely grow specific regions of your brain.

So make a resolution to learn at least one new thing each day, and to work on developing a new skill. It doesn’t matter whether it is learning to knit or how to play chess. Each will likely help you.

Later this year we will be bringing out a book that teaches brain stretching skills based on the latest advances in brain science.

Watch this space!

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