Neuroscience and Neuromyths for teachers

Professor Paul Howard-Jones | View as single page | Feedback/Impact

Is intelligence fixed?

Brain development results from our genes interacting with our experience. That means that our genes have a major influence on outcomes such as our educational achievement, but these outcomes are not biologically programmed by our DNA. It is important for teachers to understand this, because teachers who develop strong beliefs in the role of genetics are more likely to believe their pupils are limited by their biology ( Howard-Jones, et al., 2009). So, there is a relationship between how teachers think about brain development and their attitude towards learners in the classroom.

However, whatever your age and stage of development, the brain always remains plastic. That means that the way our brain functions, the way its neurons connect with each other and even the shape and size of its various parts can change as a result of experience, and that includes educational experience. Of course, the brain is more plastic during childhood, but even the adult brain remains plastic and able to learn.

When we learn, even the structure of the brain can change. In a study of learning to juggle (Draganski et al., 2004), researchers demonstrate learning-induced transient volume increases of the brain areas activated by daily training. After 3 months of training visual regions associated with motion processing increased their size by approximately 3%. After another 3 months without practice, these regions partially shrunk back again nearly to their original size.

It is important for teachers and their pupils to know about brain plasticity, because many learners feel their brains limit their potential and prevent them from learning. However, when we decide we want to learn we are choosing to change our brains in terms of their function, connectivity and structure. Research has shown that simply knowing about brain plasticity can improve the self-concept and academic potential of learners. So tell your pupils: their brain isn’t something they’re stuck with - they can change their brains!