The brain is one of the most complex and essential — yet often underrated — components of the human body.
This Sunday, Brain Games host Jason Silva takes viewers on visually awe-inspiring expeditions in search of answers to some of the most perplexing questions in modern neuroscience. In the season premiere, Meet the Brain, Silva visits the United Kingdom to test the human brain’s startle response, play a memory game, and take part in a paint-by-numbers.
Before kicking off another season of Brain Games, we wanted to hear what some of our favorite brain and neuroscience connoisseurs thought about our capacity to train the brain. And so we asked the experts the following question:
Do you think individuals can train their brains to respond in a particular way to certain situations, or do you think our brain’s innate “startle response” is too hardwired to alter?
Here’s what they had to say:
Co-founder and chief executive officer of SharpBrains (and co-author of “The SharpBrains Guide to Brain Fitness” and the producer of the SharpBrains Virtual Summit), Alvaro Fernandez, answers the question quite simply, “Yes, we can train our brains.” He elaborates, “Not only we can, but we should train our brains to respond in particular ways to certain situations. That’s why we have a human brain to begin with.” Fernandez goes on to explain, “At the core, the question goes back to the old ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate. It’s pretty clear by now that both matter. As the growing field of epigenetics has shown, genes and lifestyles interact with each other.” Opposing the idea that humans are genetically “hardwired,” Fernandez says, “Yes, we are born with many predispositions, but how those are expressed depends on our lifelong experiences, thoughts, feelings and decisions. We are always training our brains, one way or another. The range of possibility, while certainly not unlimited, is much larger than previously thought.” Read the full article here: Why we can, and SHOULD, train our brain >>
Associate professor of neurology and medical education at California University of Science and Medicine’s School of Medicine and executive director of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, Shaheen Lakhan, writes in Brain Blogger about how the development of electroencephalography (EEG) has given us a means of looking at the brain without literally “cracking it open.” Lakhan explains, “With such mounting evidence that we can train our brains through EEG and other neurofeedback methods, we come back to the ‘startle response’ — which is really a defensive reflex stemming from the brainstem aimed to protect the body from threats. It is best illustrated in infants in what is known as the Moro reflex.” He goes on to say, “As we age, this ‘primitive reflex’ dampens and it takes a lot (like free-falling in a roller coaster) to trigger it. It is only when problems arise in the brain do resemblance of the startle response return with great regularity.” Lakhan concludes, “In the end, we can train our minds to respond certain ways to stimuli, and the startle response is hardwired, but modulated by many biopsychosocial factors.” Read more: Training the Brain and the Startle Response >>
Thank you to all of our experts for enlightening us on this fascinating topic. Tune in to Brain Games: Meet the Brain this Sunday, Feb. 14, at 9/8c on National Geographic Channel.
On the Set of Meet the Brain: Jason Silva and executive producer Geoffrey Sharp are in London testing some volunteers on how their brains react to some startling stimuli.