Communicating Science Through Visual Media: Synaptic Pruning
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Communicating Science Through Visual Media: Synaptic Pruning

You look at a cup of coffee. You see a cup of coffee. But what if when you
looked at a cup of coffee your eyes sent signals to the
auditory center of your brain? Not only would you
see the coffee, you’d start hearing things too. How distracting. Now imagine how
confusing an entire city would be with all
of this overlapping sensory information. Well this might
actually happen if we didn’t have synaptic pruning. What is synaptic pruning? Inside your brain there
are interconnected groups of neurons, called
neural networks. The neurons communicate
through synapses. Let’s look under a microscope. Scientists are able to
isolate brain cells in a dish and observe them over time,
moving and communicating with one another. The synapse is where this
communication happens. When you’re a baby, you have
a lot of these synapses. In fact, you have too many. As you develop into
adulthood, your brain has to prune away the
weaker synapses in order to function efficiently. This is what we call
synaptic pruning. Now let’s imagine your brain
as a densely populated city with billions of buildings, each
one connected to every other with its own separate road. This city looks like your
brain when you were a baby. Too many connections. In fact, this is what scientists
call hyperconnectivity. And it is one chaotic place. This city needs some pruning. How do we know which synapses
to get rid of and which to keep? Imagine you’re driving to
school trying to navigate these tiny separate roads. It would be difficult at first. But eventually you’d
find the fastest route and take that path each day. Your friends see how fast
you’re getting to school and decide to follow you. Soon all the kids
in the neighborhood are taking the same road and
there’s too much traffic. The city needs to
widen and strengthen this road to move all the
traffic along efficiently. The brain does the same
thing with synapses between neurons that are
sending lots of messages back and forth. The more the pathway is used,
the stronger the connection. And what happens to all those
tiny streets you no longer use to get to school? We don’t need them anymore. So let’s remove that asphalt.
This is when synaptic pruning comes into play. Your brain adapts,
removing the connections it isn’t using anymore. As the cells in your eyes
send more and more messages to the visual processing
center of your brain, those connections
are strengthened. Meanwhile the connections
from your eyes to the auditory center of
the brain are pruned away. So information from your eyes
is processed only visually. A big part of efficient
synaptic pruning is keeping the proper balance. If not enough pruning
occurs, the brain stays hyperconnected, as it
was when you were a baby. This hyperconnectivity
has been observed in some cases of autism,
which could be related to the feeling of being
overwhelmed when processing chaotic environments. On the other hand,
with too much pruning, communication within and between
neural networks is disrupted. This results in impaired
cognitive functions, such as memory loss,
typically observed in Alzheimer’s disease. In a city with too much pruning,
roadblocks pop up on your route to school, causing
you to be late or making it impossible
to get there. As it happens in the brain,
this loss of synapses makes it hard to access
memories and block certain paths of communication. While the largest period
of synaptic pruning is early in life, this process
continues throughout adulthood. So keep learning
and happy pruning. Did you know that
each of our brains contains more than a
quadrillion synapses? That’s over a 100,000 times
the number of people on Earth. And just think, you have
all these connections to thank for your brains
efficient processing.

7 thoughts on “Communicating Science Through Visual Media: Synaptic Pruning

  1. Hello, I would like to reproduce this video inside Chilean schools in order to develop a drug prevention progam. Who should I talk with to have this private copyright access?

  2. this is why we must help our children to form the best habits possible for the most functional offspring, i am glad my parents did

  3. Oh, so this is why I am a good for nothing loser: I've spent my entire adolescence online, leaving the house only for school…

  4. Observing personalities, maybe more open/intuitive people have more synapses, so they can relate more things to each other. Less open or 'sensing' people would have much less, so their brain is more organised and sensible but less open at the same time

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