by Claire Miller
In the late 1800s, Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal postulated that once someone learns something, it’s fixed and immutable. And if that person sustains an injury to the central nervous system, they can’t relearn the knowledge in the same way.
“Think about this theory like wet cement,” said Leslie Gonzalez-Rothi, professor of neurology, clinical and health psychology and communicative disorders at the University of Florida, who was the guest speaker at the College of Education’s March 30 Research Wednesdays. “When you’re a child, your nervous system is much like wet cement – if I put my hands in it, there’s an indentation and it stays. After puberty, if that cement is broken, it can never be redone. And that’s the principle that lived on.”
Since then, neuroscientists, speech-language pathologists and other professionals who study brain injuries and how to treat them have learned that people can, in fact, relearn knowledge they had prior to sustaining that damage.
For example, people who suffer spinal cord damage in an accident can learn how to walk again through extensive therapy sessions. Humans have a natural capacity to adapt and learn throughout their lives, Gonzalez-Rothi said, and these therapy sessions give patients a place to relearn processes they previously mastered.
“You are learning things all the time as an adult,” she said. “You’re learning all the time. Your neurons are connecting, unconnecting and reconnecting. The goal of our work is to find out what are the key drivers of change in the brain and to see how we can use this information.”
The Research Wednesdays Speaker Series is designed to fulfill three goals: to provide a platform for explorations of new ways of conducting and disseminating educational research, to discuss new methods of mentoring doctoral students in an effort to enhance their development as researchers, and to fill a professional development need by providing access to cutting edge researchers at the state and national levels.
For more information about Gonzalez-Rothi and the Research Wednesdays Speaker Series, visit http://education.gsu.edu/main/coe_events.htm.