Neuroplasticity is a Virtually Meaningless Term

functional reorganisation

Neuroplasticity is a dirty word:

The latest refrain in popular science is that ‘your brain is plastic’, that experience has the potential to ‘rewire’ your brain, and that many previous mysteries in cognitive can be explained by ‘neuroplasticity’. What they don’t tell you is that these phrases are virtually meaningless.

Neuroplasticity sounds very technical, but there is no accepted scientific definition for the term and, in its broad sense, it means nothing more than ‘something in the brain has changed’. As your brain is always changing the term is empty on its own.

Mind Hacks: Neuroplasticity is a dirty word

They didn’t mention Nicholas Carr specifically, but I have the feeling this was at least partially in response to his use of the term.


  1. When I was growing up we were told that there was no neuroplasticity– that every sip of alcohol destroyed X neurons and you weren’t getting any more, ever.

    So the newsworthiness of neuroplasticity has been most welcome, and this current attempt to hush it up by (ironically) saying it happens all the time seem like just another fear vs. love, original sin, killjoy approach to me.

  2. Bill Whitcomb

    June 18, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    The evidence seems to lacking that a given exercise will fix everything. It turns out that playing Sudoku doesn’t appear to make you better at anything except playing Sudoku. Still, the important part is that your brain WILL optimize *to some extent* to get better at anything you do….even if it is something that’s bad for you overall. Practice makes perfect…or ferpect…depending on what you practice.

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