Neuroscientists are beginning to understand why the brain chooses to destroy neural pathways.
A maxim of neuroscience is that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’. What this means is that more someone practices a skill, the stronger the neuro-circuits that control that action become, hence the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’. But now researchers have discovered that there is something even more important than practice for keeping your neuro-circuits at peak strength and that is the ability to unlearn or break old neural collections. This process is referred to as synaptic pruning.
Human Brains have a DELETE BUTTON!
Glial cells are cells in the brain that perform various actions to speed up the signals between relevant neurons. A sub-group of these glial cells, the microglial cells, are the pruners of the synaptic connections and neuroscientists are currently trying to figure out how the microglial cells know which synaptic circuits to prune.
When you learn lots of new information and skills all at once, your brain starts to build connections, but these will be inefficient. In order for these neuro-circuits to begin functioning well, the brain needs to prune away a lot of the inefficient connections and build more streamline pathways. This happens while we sleep. As a person rests, their brain cells can be observed shrinking by up to 60% to allow for the microglial cells to do their work. This explains why people tend to feel able to think clearly and quickly after a good night’s sleep and why naps are so beneficial for cognitive abilities. It is said that a 10-20 minute nap is sufficient to temporarily boost your mental capacity because that’s all the microglial cells need to begin their streamlining process.
How it makes life easy?
It helps us a lot since we can choose what gets deleted from our brains. The synaptic connections that you don’t use most of the time get marked for destruction, while the usually used connections are kept well oxygenated and hydrated. Therefore, when you keep your mind busy reading more and more about the Game of Thrones theory, rather than reading up on your study material for your upcoming finals, you are telling your brain to destroy the connections that hold information about your studies. Therefore be cautious on what you are focusing on during the day, those synaptic connections are kept stronger and hydrated. Therefore whenever you get to do a new work, clear your mind first and then start working on the new project, letting the brain destroy the waste connections and building more stronger connections for the new network.
While the science is still in its preliminary stages, scientists have come to realize that certain synaptic connections are marked by certain proteins which indicate to the microglial cells that they should be pruned. How these pathways come to be marked is yet unknown, but researchers have observed that those chosen for marking at the ones that are not frequently used.
The practical implication of this is that people should be mindful of what neural pathways they are stimulating. If a person spends too many times focusing on trivialities instead of things that important to their lives, then there’s a chance that the most important pathways could be marked for deletion instead of the less consequential ones.
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