Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Brain that Changes Itself

I can honestly say I have never read a book quite like the Brain That Changes Itself. The topic? Brain Science. Not exactly my usual cup of tea. However, when my dad recommended this as one of the three top books he recommended for engaged couples, I knew there had to be something to it.

One word to describe the book? Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. The general topic would be brain science, but more specifically Norman Doidge is focusing on Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change, adapt and learn under differing circumstances.

Each chapter of this book focuses on a different aspect of neuroplasticity, and most chapters use the story of a specific  individual to illustrate that aspect. I appreciate the focus on individuals, because it makes the whole topic more interesting and personal.  I also appreciate the wide variety of other case studies and experiments that Mr. Doidge includes as well. By including other case studies he illustrates that while individual lives have been changed by the concepts, these things apply to all people.

This book widely varies in the content. We start, in the first chapter with an experiment to teach a woman whose sense of balance was destroyed by a medically perscribed drug how to stand and walk normally. It was successful. One variation of this experiment included: teaching the congenitally blind to see. Results? Again, successful. We're not talking 20/20 vision here, but we are talking genuine sight. Another chapter talk about stroke victims and some positive results they have seen by using the principles of neuro-plasticity. Other chapters deal with autism, retardation, and even the "phantom limbs" that many amputees experience.

There are two things that I came away with from reading this book. The first was an awe of God's creation, and a better understanding of the wisdom of scripture. For example, one chapter teaches, through a number of experiments, that there is surprisingly little difference between imagining something and doing something. Just as physically doing something produces learning, and therefore changes in the brain structure and the nuronal connections, so imagining something changes the brain structure and nuronal connections. These changes in the brain are identical. As I read that I immediately began thinking of Jesus' words, "whosoever hateth his brother has committed murder already in his heart." and "whoso looks at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery already with her in his heart." When Jesus said that he meant it, both in the obvious spiritual way and in a not-so-obvious physical way.

The second thing I came away with was a better understanding of some practices that will be helpful for both our children and us. A few examples:

Did you know that excessive white noise (whether purposeful noisemakers or environmental background noise such as traffic or trains) in the first few years of life greatly hightens the liklihood of a child developing autism?

Did you know that for every hour a child three and under spends each day in watching TV (regardless of the type of show that is on) increases his chances of developing an attention disorder by 10%?

Did you know that frequently walking around barefoot over a variety of surfaces (indoor and outdoor) lessens the likelyhood of falling when elderly?

 There is so much more in this book than just those things. It's amazing how incredibly practical a book on brain science can be!! My final verdict on this book is that it is a great book for any adult or highschooler*. It is very educational, and yet still fun to read.

* There is one caution I want to give about the book, because I'm not sure exactly who will be reading this review. There is one chapter, "Aquiring Tastes and Loves" that is on sex. Anyone mature enough to be interested in this book will probably be mature enough to read most of that chapter, but for younger readers (esp those younger than high-school age) I would highly recommend parental guidance. There are some parts in the last third of the chapter that deal with sinful sexual practices that would be inappropriate for younger readers. I do not, however, recommend skipping the entire chapter. About a third of the chapter deals with the effects that pornography has on the brain, and explains why pornography addictions can be instantaneous (it only takes one picture to get addicted, if it is the "right" picture). I think this information could be incredibly helpful to young men who are entering the stage where pornography becomes a temptation, particularly in the context of parental openness and guidance. 


  1. Ok, this book looks VERY interesting. I am going to have to get my hands on a copy of that.

    BTW - in case I haven't told you yet... congratulations on your newest little blessing being formed and created. SOOO excited for you and your man!!! :)

  2. So...I'm curious now. Does the white noise (referring to the potential cause of autism) include running a fan in the baby's room at night? We run one of those little floor fans to help keep Danielle's room cool, and also to help drown out the noise of sirens (we live right next to the fire department) that often go off at night. But, if that might cause autism, then I might need to stop doing it...

  3. Chelsy, it was super interesting!! I recommend an audio book. I used a hard copy, but it struck me as a book that would be easy to listen to.

    And thank you for the congratulations!! We're both pretty excited, as you can imagine. :-)

    Melody, as I understood it that applied to any white noise while a baby's brain is developing. However, I wrote the report incorrectly in that the book claims that white noise can /contribute/ to (not cause) autism developing in children who are genetically pre-disposed to it.

    I'd recommend reading the book for yourself, to determine if that is a concern for you or not. I can tell you which chapter if you just want to read the part on that topic. I can also loan you the CDs to listen to if you want. God bless!!!