The Concept of Brain Plasticity

Outline

  1. Brain Plasticity
    1. Introduction
    2. Defining Neuroplasticity
    3. Stem Cells and Neural Plasticity
    4. Injury and Neuroplasticity
    5. Phantom Limbs and Brain Plasticity
    6. Conclusion
  2. The Role of the Father in the Development of Attachment
    1. Introduction
    2. Attachment Theory
      1. Major Domains
      2. Factors Affecting Attachment Development
      3. Stages of Attachment Formation
      4. Attachment Patterns
    3. Fathers’ Role in the Development of Attachment
      1. Research
      2. Fathers and Exploration
      3. Fathers’ Involvement and Its Outcomes
    4. Conclusion

Brain Plasticity

Introduction

Brain plasticity, also referred to as neuroplasticity or neural plasticity, has been researched for many decades and various discoveries have led to the development of effective methods and strategies to treat numerous disorders. Interest in this phenomenon was sparked at the end of the 19th century and scientists promoted the idea that people’s brains were adaptable in a certain way (Denes 2015).

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At the time, the idea was rather revolutionary, as it was supposed that the morphology of the brain was static. Modern researchers have explored the concept and come up with new strategies to treat numerous conditions that have adverse effects on the quality of patients’ lives. Although new evidence of neuroplasticity appears regularly, some sceptics still doubt it exists beyond certain stages of mammalian development. This paper examines some of the recent findings that demonstrate the healing power of the brain known as brain plasticity.

Defining Neuroplasticity

When defining the phenomenon, scientists address several aspects, including the concepts of change and people’s age, environment, learning, and behaviour, among others. Neural plasticity can be defined as “the capacity of neurons and of neural circuits in the brain to change, structurally and functionally, in response to experience” (Sale, Berardi & Maffei 2014, p. 190). In more specific terms, neuroplasticity is the ability of the nervous system to change the anatomy and organisation of structures and their functions due to experience, injury, or learning (Cai et al. 2014).

Merzenich, Van Vleet, and Nahum (2014) stress that researchers used to see neuroplasticity as a process that could take place in the prenatal and early childhood periods only. Many studies conducted in the 20th century and more recent findings suggest that the brain can remain plastic to any age. Cai et al. (2014, p. 2), for instance, define brain plasticity as “an inherent characteristic or ability for lifelong skills learning and relearning”. The researchers emphasise that the adaptability of the brain does not depend on people’s age, although its peak is still during the prenatal and early childhood periods.

Stem Cells and Neural Plasticity

As mentioned above, the first major steps toward an understanding of brain plasticity were made in the 19th century. William James is seen as one of the central figures in this process, although he was not the first researcher to explore this phenomenon. However, his input into the development of the theory based on the capacity of the nervous system can hardly be overestimated (Denes 2015). James emphasised that brain plasticity involved the emergence of new neural components and new brain paths. These assumptions and the theory built on them became the basis of ensuing research that enabled scientists to dig deeper into the nature of neuroplasticity.

The development of new neural components, and thus brain plasticity, is supported by recent findings involving the functioning of stem cells. It was believed that these cells evolve exclusively during embryonic development. One of the most remarkable properties of neural cells is their capacity to evolve into different types of cells (Denes 2015). These new neural components integrate into networks that already exist, making brain adaptability possible.

The idea of stem cells’ ability to be differentiated dates back to 1893, when August Weismann identified two types of cells in the process of embryogenesis, germ and somatic cells (Sánchez Alvarado & Yamanaka, 2014). These early theories were later crystallised into theories based on the notion of cells’ reprogramming. Researchers conducted numerous experiments involving various species and found that stem cells could be reprogrammed if the environment changed. Chemical, physical, or thermal stress could boost cells’ reprogramming process.

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The exploration of stem cells in the human body led to the development of cell therapies that involve the introduction of stem cells into the injured tissue. The results are more than promising, since such treatment has proved to be effective with patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases or those who had spinal cord injuries, and many other serious health issues (Sánchez Alvarado & Yamanaka 2014; Copland & Angwin 2014; Hampstead & Sathian 2014). Stem cells integrate into existing neural networks and perform the functions of the cells that have been damaged.

Injury and Neuroplasticity

The brain’s capacity to adapt in response to different kinds of injuries can be regarded as solid evidence for the existence of such phenomena as neural plasticity. As mentioned above, it was accepted that each area of the brain had various functions, and that damage to any part of the central nervous system led to the loss of certain abilities (Denes 2015). However, this assumption was questioned, as many people could recover some functions, even though their brains had been severely damaged. For instance, post-stroke patients or those whose brains have been injured often learn how to see, walk, and speak again, although the corresponding areas of the brain do not function properly (Nadeau 2014).

Scientists explain that the central nervous system is able to produce new neural cells and synapses, which ensures continuous learning. Cases where patients had a part of their brain removed and still regained an ability to perform some tasks illustrate the way brain plasticity works.

Modern scientists have used these findings to develop pharmacological and nonpharmacological therapies to address various disorders and other health issues. For example, noradrenergic agonists are utilised to improve M1 excitability (Di Pino et al. 2014). Training and simulations are common nonpharmacological therapies that have proved to be effective in motor learning and treating cognitive impairments (Cai et al. 2014). It is noteworthy that the balance between training and sleep is instrumental in achieving significant progress when addressing the issues post-stroke patients have to face. People’s exposure to new environments also leads to a change in the morphology of the brain.

Phantom Limbs and Brain Plasticity

Additional evidence of brain plasticity is provided by researchers investigating phantom limbs. It is necessary to note that this phenomenon is associated with both positive and negative effects on people’s quality of life. As an example of an adverse influence of neuroplasticity on the lives of people with amputated limbs, up to 85% of these people report feeling phantom limb pain (Kuffler 2017). Substantial research in this area suggests that phantom sensations are an outcome of maladaptive brain plasticity. The origin of this phenomenon is linked to the functioning of the somatosensory neural network and brain’s misinterpretation of activity among the network’s components (Denes 2015).

Experimental evidence for this assumption has been provided since the 1990s. In one of the studies on the nature of phantom limb pain, participants reported the disappearance of phantom sensations following a cerebral lesion associated with the representation of the amputated limb (Denes 2015). The use of magnetoencephalography (MEG) also sheds light on the origin of the phenomenon, as recorded somatosensory maps show that certain brain areas could be activated when touching a limb above the amputation line.

Chronic pain can be regarded as a phenomenon similar to phantom limb pain. When tissue is damaged, stimuli sent from the periphery to the central nervous system lead to morphological changes in the brain and somatotopic reorganisation (Denes 2015). Chronic pain is found to lead to the reduction of grey matter volume, but this effect is reversible when the pain is eliminated (Ray 2014). Hence, chronic pain and its impact on people’s health can be regarded as evidence for brain plasticity.

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Apart from phantom pain, neuroplasticity can be associated with positive influences on the lives of people whose limbs are missing. Tyler (2015) stresses that patients with prosthetic limbs report significant improvements with the use of their prostheses.

The stimulation of certain areas activates somatosensory perception of the missing limb. Patients start feeling their phantom limbs, which improves the quality of their lives as they manage to use prostheses more effectively. Some people found it just as important to feel when their loved ones touched their phantom hand (Tyler 2015). Importantly, therapy involving stimulation also led to the complete elimination of phantom limb pain. Therefore, a phenomenon that is often regarded as maladaptive plasticity can be properly managed.

Conclusion

To sum up, it is possible to state that the notion of neuroplasticity has been researched for decades and many discoveries in this area have led to the improvement of people’s health conditions. An understanding of the nature of this phenomenon has enabled scientists and practitioners to develop therapies that are effective in treating various disorders that used to be seen as incurable. Research related to stem cells, phantom limbs, chronic pain, and stroke recovery has provided many insights into this phenomenon.

Today it is widely accepted that the human brain can adapt effectively to new environments, and this capacity can and should be utilised properly. Brain plasticity is the key to people’s recoveries from injuries of various types. Neural plasticity is also instrumental in managing health issues associated with aging, which is specifically relevant for many countries whose populations are aging rapidly.

Reference List

Cai, L, Chan, JSY, Yan, JH & Peng, K 2014, ‘Brain plasticity and motor practice in cognitive aging’, Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, vol. 6, pp. 1-12.

Copland, DA & Angwin, A 2014, ‘Cognitive plasticity in Parkinson’s disease’, in J Tracy, B Hampstead & K Sathian (eds.), Cognitive plasticity in neurologic disorders, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, pp. 85-107.

Denes, G 2015, Neural plasticity across the lifespan: how the brain can change, Psychology Press, New York, NY.

Di Pino, G, Maravita, A, Zollo, L, Guglielmelli, E & Di Lazzaro, V 2014, ‘Augmentation-related brain plasticity’, Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, vol. 8, pp. 1-22.

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Hampstead, B & Sathian, K 2014, ‘Cognitive plasticity in healthy older adults, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease: contributory factors and treatment responses’, in J Tracy, B Hampstead & K Sathian (eds.), Cognitive plasticity in neurologic disorders, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, pp. 197-226.

Kuffler, DP 2017, ‘Coping with phantom limb pain’, Molecular Neurobiology, vol. 55, no. 1, pp.70-84.

Merzenich, MM, Van Vleet, TM & Nahum, M 2014, ‘Brain plasticity-based therapeutics’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, vol. 8, pp. 1-16.

Nadeau, SE 2014, ‘Neuroplastic mechanisms of language recovery after stroke’, in J Tracy, B Hampstead & K Sathian (eds.), Cognitive plasticity in neurologic disorders, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, pp.61-85.

Ray, AL 2014, ‘Neuroplasticity, sensitization, and pain’, in TR Deer, MS Leong & AL Ray (eds.), Treatment of chronic pain by integrative approaches: the American Academy of Pain Medicine textbook on patient management, Springer, Stanford, CA, pp. 15-23.

Sale, A, Berardi, N & Maffei, L 2014, ‘Environment and brain plasticity: towards an endogenous pharmacotherapy’, Physiological Reviews, vol. 94, no. 1, pp. 189-234.

Sánchez Alvarado, A & Yamanaka, S 2014, ‘Rethinking differentiation: stem cells, regeneration, and plasticity’, Cell, vol. 157, no. 1, pp. 110-119.

Tyler, DJ 2015, ‘Neural interfaces for somatosensory feedback’, Current Opinion in Neurology, vol. 28, no. 6, pp. 574-581.

The Role of the Father in the Development of Attachment

Attachment theory provides a framework for understanding the development of relationships between parents and their influence on the child’s later life. In the first part of the 20th century, it was believed that children formed attachments to people who fed them (Fonagy 2018). John Bowlby questioned these assumptions and hypothesised that motivation and behaviour were the primary factors affecting the development of attachments (Holmes 2014).

Bowlby first focused on the exclusive role of the mother-child relationship and its impact on the child’s adult life. However, later, the researcher recognised the importance of the father in the development of the child’s attachment and refined his theoretical paradigm (Bretherton 2014).

This paper includes an analysis of attachment theory with a focus on the father’s role in attachment development. The first part of this paper focuses on the theory and its principal elements such as major domains, factors affecting attachment formation, stages of attachment, and the four attachment patterns. The second part of the paper explores the importance of fathers in the process of forming attachments and the influence of father-child relationships on children’s behaviour, health, and attachment to a partner in adulthood.

Attachment Theory

Major Domains

The theory under consideration came into existence in the middle of the twentieth century when a young psychologist, John Bowlby, examined the origins of maladjusted boys’ behaviour (Fonagy 2018). Bowlby found that all of the boys in the group had disrupted relationships with their mothers, which made the researcher dig deeper into the matter (Goldberg 2014). The psychologist emphasised that people were bound to take part in social interactions. Based on these beliefs and continuous research, Bowlby developed attachment theory, which is now widely utilised.

Some of the primary domains of the theoretical paradigm include the notion of a secure base, exploration, and loss. All these concepts are closely connected and can hardly be analysed in isolation (Holmes 2014). Loss is one of the central domains, as the deprivation of a caregiver decreases children’s ability to form attachments properly. The concept of the secure base is another pillar of the theory, since caregivers becomes the source of comfort and security for the child. Children seek the support of their primary caregivers whenever they find themselves in an unfamiliar situation. The person who serves as the secure base also facilitates the child’s ability and motivation to explore and self-develop.

Factors Affecting Attachment Development

Although extensive research has been implemented for decades, it is often difficult to identify specific factors that contribute to the development of attachment. One of the premises for children’s becoming attached to a caregiver is the availability of a secure base. Children raised in orphanages or those whose biological parents do not live together tend not to trust people, which makes it impossible to form healthy attachments (Holmes 2014). Another influential factor affecting the emergence of attachment is the quality of care. If a caregiver is consistently available and responsive to the child’s needs, the child is likely to form attachments effectively. However, if care is provided poorly or inconsistently, the child cannot locate a secure base properly and fails to develop attachments.

Stages of Attachment Formation

Researchers identify four major stages of attachment development, including the stages of pre-attachment, indiscriminate attachment, discriminate attachment, and multiple attachment (Lomas, Hefferon & Ivtzan 2014). The first stage (from birth to 3 months) is marked by the child’s signalling their needs and caregivers’ response to these signals. During the indiscriminate attachment stage (from 6 weeks to 7 months), children accept care from different people, but start showing preferences concerning the primary caregiver. The discriminate attachment stage lasts from 7 to 11 months and is associated with the child’s strong preference for the primary caregiver. The multiple attachment stage starts in children older than 9 months and involves the development of bonds to secondary caregivers.

Attachment Patterns

Bowlby and other researchers applying attachment theory identified certain patterns of attachment. Secure attachment is characterised by anxiety when separated from the caregiver and delight after a reunion (Fonagy 2018). In such relationships, children trust their caregivers and find comfort whenever it is needed. Children who had secure attachments tend to form healthy relationships and display prosocial behaviour in their adult lives (Gross et al. 2017). The roles of the mother and father are equally important for the development of the child.

The rest of the identified patterns are negative and are linked to issues in adulthood. Ambivalent attachment is associated with a child’s deep sorrow when separated from the caregiver (Salter Ainsworth et al. 2015). This pattern is mainly a result of deprivation of the mother. Avoidant attachment involves children’s desire to avoid caregivers. It is usually formed if caregivers neglect their children or abuse them. Such children often fail to trust people and do not seek support from others in their adulthood. Disorganised attachment is the result of relationships where caregivers provide care inconsistently. Children often see such parents as comforters and abusers at the same time.

Fathers’ Role in the Development of Attachment

Research

As mentioned above, at the dawn of the theory, fathers were not regarded as a secure base by psychologists and were largely excluded from the research (Palm 2014). At the end of the 20th century, the social context changed and father-child relationships became a matter of exploration. Palm (2014) claims that the role of the father in the child’s attachment development was examined primarily through the lens of external factors and through comparison of the influence of mothers and fathers. At present, such areas as fathers’ parenting styles, family contexts, and fathers’ behaviours are under consideration.

Fathers and Exploration

Bowlby also ignored the fathers and focused on the impact mothers as caregivers had on their children’s development. The psychologist later accepted the idea that fathers performed an important role in their children’s attachment development and potential success in adulthood (Newland & Coyl 2014). He admitted that mothers were secure bases referred to for comfort and nurture, while the input of fathers was associated with children’s exploration and self-enhancement.

Fathers often challenge their children and motivate them to explore the world around them in many ways (Cabrera et al. 2014). Mothers are associated with security and comfort, while fathers are linked to exciting and dangerous practices that facilitate children’s desire to explore. This aspect is tied to social activity, and it is found that children whose fathers have been active caregivers tend to be less anxious when communicating with others (Boldt et al. 2014). Goodsell and Meldrum (2014) also note that the influence of fathers is exclusive when they are the primary caregivers. Their behavior and parenting style have a central impact on the development of attachment.

Fathers’ Involvement and Its Outcomes

The effect of fathers’ involvement in rearing children cannot be overestimated, as it provides the necessary balance between the need for security and experiencing challenges. It is acknowledged that children who have healthy relationships with their fathers are likely to have better academic performance as compared to those whose fathers are not supportive (Woodward 2018). Children who have healthy attachment to their fathers are often more successful in their romantic relationships as well (Stanton & Campbell 2014; Pietromonaco & Beck 2015). They are able to form trustful relationships with others, which is essential for forming effective long-term romantic relationships.

The development of attachment to fathers is also closely linked to children’s health. Mazzeschi et al. (2014) found a relationship between attachment development and children’s body weight. Children with an insecure attachment to their fathers are significantly more likely to be overweight as compared to those characterised by secure attachment patterns (Tasca & Balfour 2014). Demidenko, Manion, and Lee (2015) argue that low attachment to fathers is associated with depressive symptoms in adolescent females. Fonagy (2018) also adds that children’s attachment is affected by fathers’ parenting style, external factors (for example, the family’s socio-economic status), and familial contexts.

Conclusion

On balance, it should be noted that attachment theory provides an effective paradigm for examining the nature of attachment and interpersonal relationships. The theory is instrumental for identifying possible reasons for people’s improper behaviour or psychological issues, as well as potential strategies to address these problems. Although it used to be believed that only mothers were key figures in attachment development, the social context of the modern world is changing, and fathers are becoming more involved.

One of their primary roles is related to the child’s exposure to new opportunities and challenges. Fathers facilitate children’s urge for exploration, which is essential for their ability to form effective relationships with other people in their adult lives.

As far as the specific outcomes of secure or insecure attachment to the father, it is possible to state that children’s health and psychological wellbeing often depends on their relationships with their fathers. Irrespective of the child’s gender, the father’s support and care are important. Abusive fathers make their children more likely to feel mistrustful toward everyone and often depressed. It should also be noted that fathers’ parenting styles and the social and familial contexts affect the way attachment is developed.

It is also important to add that the presence of both parents is crucial for a child’s proper development, as both parents perform different roles and influence different aspects of their child’s growth. However, it is also necessary to remember that these roles are not rigid and fathers can be the primary caregivers, providing support or constantly challenging their child and exposing them to new situations.

Reference List

Boldt, LJ, Kochanska, G, Yoon, JE & Koenig Nordling, J 2014, ‘Children’s attachment to both parents from toddler age to middle childhood: links to adaptive and maladaptive outcomes’, Attachment & Human Development, vol. 16, no. 3, pp. 211-229.

Bretherton, I 2014, ‘Fathers in attachment theory and research: a review’, in LA Newland, HS Freeman & DD Coyl (eds.), Emerging topics on father attachment: considerations in theory, context and development, Routledge, New York, NY, pp. 9-24.

Cabrera, NJ, Fitzgerald, HE, Bradley, RH & Roggman, L 2014, ‘The ecology of father‐child relationships: an expanded model’, Journal of Family Theory & Review, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 336-354.

Demidenko, N, Manion, I & Lee, CM 2015, ‘Father–daughter attachment and communication in depressed and nondepressed adolescent girls’, Journal of Child and Family Studies, vol. 24, no. 6, pp. 1727-1734.

Fonagy, P 2018, Attachment theory and psychoanalysis, SAGE, Boston, MA.

Goldberg, S 2014, Attachment and development, Routledge, New York, NY.

Goodsell, TI & Meldrum, JT 2014, ‘Nurturing fathers: a qualitative examination of child-father attachment’, in LA Newland, HS Freeman & DD Coyl (eds.), Emerging topics on father attachment: considerations in theory, context and development, Routledge, New York, NY, pp. 240-255.

Gross, JT, Stern, JA, Brett, BE & Cassidy, J 2017, ‘The multifaceted nature of prosocial behavior in children: links with attachment theory and research’, Social Development, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 661-678.

Holmes, J 2014, The search for the secure base: attachment theory and psychotherapy, Routledge, New York, NY.

Lomas, T, Hefferon, K & Ivtzan, I 2014, Applied positive psychology: integrated positive practice, SAGE, Boston, MA.

Mazzeschi, C, Pazzagli, C, Laghezza, L, Radi, G, Battistini, D & De Feo, P 2014, ‘The role of both parents’ attachment pattern in understanding childhood obesity’, Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 5, pp. 1-9.

Newland, LA & Coyl, DD 2014, ‘Fathers’ role as attachment figures: an interview with Sir Richard Bowlby’, in LA Newland, HS Freeman & DD Coyl (eds.), Emerging topics on father attachment: considerations in theory, context and development, Routledge, New York, NY, pp. 24-32.

Palm, G 2014, ‘Attachment theory and fathers: moving from “being there” to “being with”’, Journal of Family Theory & Review, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 282-297.

Pietromonaco, PR & Beck, LA 2015, ‘Attachment processes in adult romantic relationships’, in M Mikulincer, PR Shaver, JA Simpson, & JF Dovidio (eds.), APA handbooks in psychology. APA handbook of personality and social psychology. Interpersonal relations, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, pp. 33-64.

Salter Ainsworth, MD, Blehar, MC, Waters, E, Wall, SN 2015, Patterns of attachment: a psychological study of the strange situation, Psychology Press, New York, NY.

Stanton, S & Campbell, L 2014, ‘Psychological and physiological predictors of health in romantic relationships: an attachment perspective’, Journal of Personality, vol. 82, no. 6, pp. 528-538.

Tasca, G & Balfour, L 2014, ‘Attachment and eating disorders: a review of current research’, International Journal of Eating Disorders, vol. 47, no. 7, pp. 710-717.

Woodward, J 2018, ‘Introduction to attachment theory’, in M Green (eds.), Attachment and human survival, Routledge, London, pp. 7-21.

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