Plasticity beyond early development: Hypotheses and questions


Plasticity beyond early development: Hypotheses and questions

Plasticity beyond early development
© MIT Press
Lifespan Psychology

Applying insights from research on critical periods in early development, this chapter outlines a life-span research agenda on human plasticity and uses it as the conceptual foundation for a set of research hypotheses and open questions. Plasticity is defined as the capacity for lasting changes in brain structure associated with expansions in behavioral repertoire. As a complement to plasticity, flexibility refers to the instantiation and reconfiguration of the existing behavioral repertoire during periods of stability that are characterized by the absence of structural change. Mammalian and avian brains evolve through cycles of plasticity and stability, with a general trend towards stability. Animal work on critical periods in motor and sensory development substantiates three hypotheses that can serve as guideposts for research on plasticity in later age periods: First, likelihood, rate, and magnitude of plastic changes decrease after maturity. Second, when triggered, plastic changes often entail an overproduction of new synaptic connections, followed by pruning. Macroscopically, this sequence is associated by a pattern of grey matter volume expansion, followed by renormalization. Third, earlier plastic changes provide a structural scaffold for later learning. These hypotheses await empirical testing in humans, engender research design recommendations, and are related to fundamental open issues in research on human plasticity.

Lindenberger, U. (2018). Plasticity beyond early development: Hypotheses and questions. In A. A. Benasich & U. Ribary (Eds.), Emergent brain dynamics: Prebirth to adolescence (pp. 207–223). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press