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Unbroken's avatar

What does it mean when scientists say parts of your brain are "closed"?

Asked by Unbroken (10274 points ) June 9th, 2014

I’ve read that children up to the age of ten are much more capable of learning languages.

That by the our late teens we’ve developed our musical tastes.

By 27 or 28 our personality is formed.

All of that is followed by the “that part of our brain closes off” kind of a statement.

Which I sort of understand. But the imagery that statement evokes is confusing to me. Especially with my limited understanding of brain functionality. I understand they are just trying to simplify things to get a point across. But is there a way to explain this phenomenon in layman’s terms from an anatomical perspective?

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7 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

Much of learning is from building neural pathways in the brain to expedite processing. That is much more rapid when we are younger, and makes learning much faster.

To use an analogy to a computer, it’s like a hard drive that/s new and never been used has plenty of space. As we age, the hard drive still has room, but finding fresh spaces on the disk to write information to becomes more difficult.

cazzie's avatar

no no no… no part of our brain ‘closes off’... Neuroscience discuss this topic in forms of ‘plasticity’ now. I’ll see if I can find you a better reference….

http://psychology.about.com/b/2012/07/06/brain-plasticity-psychology-definition-of-the-week.htm

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/cd/12_1/Kolb.cfm

rojo's avatar

I thought it meant you had become a conservative

DWW25921's avatar

This is an interesting question. When I was younger I remember decisions being easier. Now, it seems my mind is cluttered with information and “what if” scenarios. I can’t retain information as easily as I once did and it seems learning new things just isn’t in the cards.

The brain controls everything, not just memory and thought. There are parts of it that are used for specific tasks and may be “closed off” for those purposes. I don’t think the memory portions are closed off as much as left in deep storage. Things reappear from time to time.

I hope that helps… It’s all my brain could come up with!

@rojo As much as conservatives and liberals fight, we need each other. We need an opposing view so one side doesn’t get out of hand. I would advise caution making comments like that as both parties are outright owned by the same companies and it really doesn’t matter who “wins” as things ultimately get worse. Be a liberal, that’s fine. But be a registered independent so you can vote your conscience without endorsing an obsolete party. More importantly, be an American and try a little harder to acknowledge and respect the opposing views of others.

linguaphile's avatar

You’re thinking about the “Critical Period” theory. That’s the theory that says that a child has a window of opportunity, or a limited time, to learn language or concepts before the window “closes.” Some people believe the ability to catch up is forever lost, while others believe that the ability to catch up is just more difficult, but not impossible.

The MAIN thing wrong with that theory is that it is ultimately rooted in the results of two children that were separate from society for years, and upon being found, were taught language and proper behavior. Both kids “failed” to re-integrate into society and acquire language. One is “Genie”—she was chained to a toilet for years and the “wIld boy of Aveyron” who lived in the woods with animals. Genie never acquired full use of language- but she had been severely abused before she was found and severely malnourished, so there is no way now to identify what kind of other cognitive problems she had, but she’s often cited as an example of a “closed critical period window.” The wild boy was found and given to a very abusive teacher whose notes say he never learned to behave or even make eye contact. Careful review of those notes today show that the boy most likely had some kind of autism/Aspergers, but again, he is often cited as an example.

I have an example of how the closed window is false— I was a teacher in Arizona for a while and my middle school got a deaf girl who had been homeless and abandoned in Mexico. She lived on the streets, foraging and surviving. She had zero access to spoken languages- so knew no Spanish or English, and had no access to any signed languages, so knew no Mexican or American sign language. The social workers found her and brought her to our school at age 12. Theoretically, she should have had ZERO ability to acquire language, but within 3 years she was able to catch up considerably, could communicate and read/write at the level of a 8 year old (meaning, in 3 years she covered 8 years of language acquisition). She was still behind, but helluva lot better than where she was when she started.

Today’s research shows that children under 12 have much more brain plasticity and flexibility, but that the brain doesn’t really stop developing until age 25. After that, the brain STILL can develop new neural pathways in many cases. The brain is so complex that every single individual has different results.

Unbroken's avatar

@zenvelo hmm that is a better analogy the closed doors.

@cazzie. Oh I was reading Ben Carson’s memoir and he was doing hemispherecetomies(sic) in older and older people successfully. So that makes more sense now. Thanks for setting me in the right direction.

@rojo I know some pretty extreme conservatives. At that point it just is obstinace no matter what side of the aisle. If a person is incapable of hearing a valid argument.

@DWW29591hmm well it does but the brain is a muscle the more use it or lose it. Lol. Your insightful and a member of fluther you’re probably ok.

@liguiphile thanks for giving that theory a name. I meant not impossible but the prime time for those things had passed. Of course adults are learning new langauges. But what an interesting story. It is always hard to hear of abuse. But sadly much can be leaened from it. The genie girl rings a bell think i saw a short part of a documentary of her. Very sad the condition she was in.

Bill1939's avatar

I had not heard that parts of the brain are closed. My understanding is that one is born with more neurons than it will have later in life. To reduce the energy demand by the brain, unused neurons are gradually pruned. Learning is more rapid for the young because of the number of neurons they have. However, the brain can generate new neurons (though never the number it had initially) to establish new pathways required to learn new associations and information.

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