The Good Childhood Conference started on 10 October with keynote presentation ‘How neuroscience can contribute to identifying the outcomes we want for children and young people in the 21st Century‘ by Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE, a leading British neuroscientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords.
Her story is about developing the mind and learning more about how the physical brain works. With technology changing drastically, she argues that there are bound to be drastic changes in our brains, so how can we harness the power of this technology and development?
The story starts with the brain. To understand this story, it takes a short lesson in the myths of neuroscience:
- Each brain region is a mini brain in itself… It’s actually not,
- The ‘Triune Brain’ Theory…is wrong,
- Left Brain vs. Right Brain…is far too simple and a bit sexist, really,
- We only use 10% of the brain…just wrong,
- The brain is just like a computer…no, it’s much much better than a computer,
- And, your genes determine everything…they don’t. Genes are just one part of the story.
The link between your genes and your behaviours is actually quite indirect and it’s only part of the story. The role of your environment and experiences play a huge part in this and that has nothing to do with your genes.
The brain grows through connections between “blobby bits”, and this is what determines how you think and how you view the world.
And what builds those connections? Your experiences, environment and how your brain adapts to these things. This adaptability or ‘plasticity’ of the brain leads us to understand incredible cases of brain repair and the learning of unusual skills, as the brain continually grows through actions and experiences.
Did you know a London taxi driver’s brain looks totally different to a golfer’s?
So, with this in mind, what’s key in neuroscience for the adolescent brain? The answer is the prefrontal cortex. This is an area of the brain that can be highly influenced by dopamine, the chemical that impacts onto your inhibitions.
The balance between thrill and consequences is weighed up in the prefrontal cortex and here, the thrill of taking a risk can outweigh the consequences and, before you know it, the prefrontal cortex takes that risk. This knowledge of the brain and the way it develops can influence the ways we think about environments, the use of digital technology and, what this means for children and childhood.
The neuroscientist’s story puts a particular importance on enriching environments and making for a good childhood: it shapes your personality, it shapes your experiences, it literally shapes your brain.
“What we can do now that we know about this plasticity, is harness the benefits of the digital world and minimise the threats.”
By: SYN Media blogger