Debate in the neuroscience community ranges across a slew of issues, but one thing is unanimous. The human brain is constantly changing. This post walks you through some of those changes and the opportunities that present themselves to you for maximizing the brain’s potential.
The types of change and the mechanisms for change are, just in the last few years, just starting to be understood. It now seems that humans change far more than ever believed as they grow from birth to maturity. The disadvantage to human infants being born so helpless is their susceptibility to harm. Yet the advantage is their enormous receptivity to the new world they’re born into. Their relatively delayed rate of brain development makes humans highly susceptible to the longer influence of postnatal experiences.
This susceptibility can be described a number of ways.
Malleability refers to broad, general quality that describes our brain’s capacity to change as a result of a general long-term experiences that are happening to it.
Malleability could refer to, for example, the brain changing with exposure to stress, repeated trauma, or even nutrition. We can say our brains are highly malleable; if we expose an infant to abuse or neglect, the emotional systems may be changed semi-permanently (Perry, 1994). This malleability means we can either develop our emotional world properly or not and risk serious consequences.
One of the best reads of this time would be Stanley Greenspan’s The Growth of the Mind (1998). Greenspan is one of the few who understand the role of emotions in the developing child’s cognitive and social world. Many treat the growing up time as a three-part world of motor, language and cognition. In the chapter on early childhood brain, a good deal of time is invested on the emotional brain. As a generalization, malleability is change that occurs over a longer period of time and with greater passivity than other types of change.
Brain-based learning means understanding this concept.
Neuroplasticity refers to use-dependent cortical reorganization—changes that result from what the organism in question does. This process occurs when the brain changes as a response to a specific experience.
When we learn to tie our shoe, ride a bike, speak a language, play a sport, build a boat, learn to type or play an instrument, the brain will change. It is a measurable and often significant remapping of the brain’s topological real estate. In a way, it’s like suburban sprawl . . . land once used for farming is sold and now it is used for housing sprawl.
This is a revolutionary concept; it says not just that the brain changes from experience, but that it “buys, sells and homesteads neural real estate” based on what you actually do on a daily basis. As a result, people today are being less shocked by ground-breaking books like, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Amen, 1998), which shows how lifestyle, nutrition, relationships and exercise can make significant changes in your emotional and behavioral world. Your brain, weighing three pounds is bustling with change at this time. Brain-based learning means understanding this concept.
Genetic or Environmental Changes?
What’s the source of all the brain changes? Is it nature or nurture that defines what an infant will become? The question is irrelevant; it tries to split what cannot in fact be divided.
Bill Greenough, one of the modern pioneers of neuropsychology, has been working since the 1970s to explore how the brain changes. He says that measuring the effects of genetics and environment is a bit like asking if height or width contributes more greatly to the area of a rectangle—they both contribute! His early experiments (using rats to measure enrichment, and extending the findings to human development) have become classics. (Greenough and Volkar, 1973; Greenough et al., 1987)
He describes brains as changing in one of the following ways at a time:
Some changes occur more or less regardless of what an individual does or experiences. For example, the human brain grows like crazy in the months following birth, increasing from an average weight of 400 grams at birth to 1,000 grams at one year, and continuing to grow for years afterward (Schore, 1994). That’s kind of growth is going to happen in over 90% of all humans. Only extreme circumstances (like neglect) would change that developmental trajectory.
By the teenage years, the volume of the human brain has quadrupled (Johnson, 2001) Metabolically, from birth to 4 years of age, the cerebral cortex’s use of glucose rises, reaching more than twice the glucose usage of the adult brain and continuing thus until the age of 10 years (Chugani, 1998).
During adolescence, the levels of androgens and estrogens (male and female hormones) increase, susceptibility to drugs increases, the stress response system changes, and the frontal lobes slowly begin to mature. Brain-based learning means understanding this. At the other end of life— outside my scope here—chemical processes associated with aging set in.
All these changes are tendencies of the species—inborn and for the most part, controlled by genes. Yet, even they are not 100% totally predetermined. Life experiences from nutrition to the social environment can influence the degree to which these changes take place. As an example, an infant who is severely neglected will develop an undersized brain. Brain- based learning means understanding and using this concept.
The second type of change, experience-expectant, is a more clear, more definite combination of genetics and environment. It means that the brain is ready for and expects something to happen, but it still needs prompting. For example, the human brain is designed for communication. Humans, without any training at all, will use gestures, grunts, shouts, and sign language. You may have had the experience of being in a foreign culture and not knowing the language spoken.
Years ago I visited Huahine, one of the outer islands of French Polynesia. At the time, there were no English-speaking persons on the island. Everything (apologies to the Polynesian language) sounded like gibberish to me, so I resorted to hand signals and fractured repetition of phrases spoken to me. The amazing thing was, after a week, with no formal training, I was actually learning some words and getting along much better. What I have is clearly a brain designed to learn to speak a language. What we hear helps so much, that most kids on a summer break lose ground in terms of vocabulary development. In the illustration below, not how a 3- month school time build far more vocabulary.
Here’s what happened:
The brain is set up to respond to language exposure, but it will not develop a speaking vocabulary without exposure and prompting. The unfortunate children who survive without language exposure—called “feral children” or cases of severe deprivation demonstrate this. For example, “Genie” was discovered in Los Angeles in 1970, strapped to a potty-chair at the age of 13 (Pines, 1997). She had been neglected for years and received no normal social human interaction, and had never been taught to speak.
When found, she communicated at that time only through grunts and groans. Since age 13, has Genie learned to speak English fluently? No, in spite of years of intensive support and training by a slew of therapists, psychologists, and linguists, Genie still speaks like a fractured telegram, barking out the broken sentences of a three-year-old. Today, she is middle-aged and living in a sheltered care home for adults who cannot live alone.
Another example might be susceptibility to stress. If your mother had a stress disorder or depression at age 45, will you also have the same problem? Genes may play some role in this equation, but a minor one. If you expose yourself to the same risk factors, you might become depressed, too. But if you lower your risk through lifestyle changes, you just might stay depression-free.
Remember, genes are the coding for brain/body processes; they function in much the same way that blueprints provide the structural plans for a house. But they don’t guarantee the outcome. Every day, your genes influence proteins, which in turn influence molecular activity. But it goes the other way, too. Your lifestyle, the environment you live in, can also influence our perception of experience. That influences your bodily reactions (such as stress) and that in turn can influence proteins, which can influence genes. Nutrition is an example of something that can effect our brain. Brain-based learning means understanding how this works.
The third type of change is experience-dependent. These changes are 100 percent a result of your life’s experiences. Some of these influences are bad (neglect, malnutrition, abuse, and the like), of course, and they can create lasting problems. On the other hand, many good influences allow an infant (through primitive sensory biases) to attend to more relevant stimuli (a smiling parent’s face) in its busy environment. When I talk about brain change, I am referring to relatively lasting changes, changes that are measurable at least 90 days after the influence in question. There are plenty of ways it can happen. Here are just some of the events that literally change the brain:
Trauma Learning a new language
Drug abuse A year in a foreign country
Neglect Sports participation
Separation from parents Skill building
Traumatic brain injury Learning to learn
Seizures Entering a new environment
Physical/emotional abuse Phonemic awareness training
Malnutrition Restoration of a sense
In addition, improvements in brain function can be seen after surgery or a stroke—events that damage the brain dramatically are sometimes followed by brilliant recoveries. Areas of the brain retool themselves to deal with different functions, more or less effectively replacing the losses.
Even a hemispherectomy—the removal of half the brain—can be followed by nearly normal life, especially if the damage occurs in a young individual (Carson, 2000). Removing half a brain seems crazy, but it can work. Amazingly, the remaining side of the brain takes over the functions of the removed half. If this operation is done before age two, there are usually no side effects. Between two and four, there are some noticeable losses and learning deficits. At age four to six, there are greater language and learning deficits. The operation is not typically done after age six or seven.
Again the human brain has enormous capacity for change. For both parents and educators, that’s a message of hope. Here’s an example of how much education influences the structure of the brain. Brain-based learning means understanding these changes.
Primary School Age
Until just a few short years ago, scientists had to make a lot of guesses about what was happening in the brains of young children growing up. Now, using MRIs, researchers are able to take images over a period of years and see year by year how the brain changes.
What’s going on in the world of kids age 5–12? There’s far more activity observed in these young brains than was originally thought and it’s more diffuse in children relative to adults. Scientists believe that the increasing cognitive capacity during childhood coincides with radical changes. Peak growth rates, the extension of the connecting axons to the memory and language cortex, stretch through and after puberty. There’s a severe, spatially localized loss of gray matter in the lower brain (Thompson et al., 2000).
As the brain gets more streamlined, there’s a gradual loss rather than formation of new synapses and presumably a strengthening of remaining synaptic connections (Casey et al., 1998). Children have, on average, 60 percent greater brain activation than adults do in the prefrontal cortex. This highly active brain is sorting out a brand new world and it takes plenty of glucose to do that. During the educational process, the brain is both losing the unused dendrites and gaining new ones; it’s a complex picture. Brain-based learning means you use this key information.
Children also have significantly more right hemisphere activity, too. Their brains are not quite as efficient and they have to work harder, not always using the most efficient areas (Gaillard et al., 2000). As you might guess, this just about ensures that children end up more susceptible to interference and less able to inhibit inappropriate responses than adults (Bunge et al., 2002). Adults have more effective interference suppression than children, and they use the opposite (left) opposite hemisphere for the purpose. Interestingly, positive emotions are generated more when we are using our left, not right hemisphere. This suggests that sequential tasks that activate the left hemisphere are more likely to lead to positive thoughts (Ueda et al., 2003). That also means youngsters may get a mood lift from analyzing, counting, arranging items in a sequence, following a numeric order and doing tasks that require a specific order.
Brains develop in curious ways, with the sensory and spatial areas first and the frontal lobes being the slowest. Here’s how that maps out:
Working memory tasks show greater larger degree of immaturity in boys than girls aged 6–10. Give them just one thing to do at a time. In addition, the visual working memory reaches functional maturity earlier than the corresponding auditory system (Vuontela et al., 2003). This is the time to strengthen social skills and exploratory behaviors in reading, traveling and imagination. Yet in spite of all the changes going on in the brain at this age, it’s almost quiet compared to the firestorm happening from birth to five and in the teen years. Overall, if you’re working with these children, enjoy the break. From ages 5 to 12, you’re in the eye of the storm.
This is a great chance (before they get “too cool” when they’re older), to enrich a youngster’s life with travel opportunities, exploring nature, visiting museums, participating in plays , taking martial arts, playing soccer, 4H, dance classes and scouts. Take this golden opportunity—you only get it once!
Unlocking the Teenage Brain
Adolescence is a wild ride for everybody—parents, teachers, and kids. There are fast-moving rapid and dramatic changes in biology, cognition, emotion, and interpersonal relationships. Just about everything that could change, does change. A good metaphor for puberty and the teen years is “starting the engines of a race car with an unskilled driver.” The teen brain itself is different and the teen skill set is different from what the same individuals had as preteens. This has been the recent focus of so many neuroscientific investigators that I can’t begin to share all the latest discoveries with you here. Brain-based learning means paying attention to these concepts. We’ll focus on just a few of the critical ones.
Many areas of the brain are under major construction during adolescence. In fact, the changes are as dramatic as those happening in an infant’s brain. It’s safe to call the teen years a “sensitive period” for human brain development. The parietal lobes undergo major changes from ages twelve to seventeen. Certain sub-areas may double or triple in size. The frontal lobes, a big chunk of “gray matter,” are the last area to mature, undergoing dramatic changes. Gray matter (brain cells) thickens first (between ages eleven to thirteen) and later thins (reduces 7 to 10 percent) between the ages of thirteen and twenty. In 1999, Jay Giedd and colleagues demonstrated a growth spurt of gray matter in the teen brain (Paus et al., 1999). As the child spends more time learning, the brain’s dendrites continue to make more connections.
This is followed by massive pruning, in which about 1 percent of gray matter is pared down each year during the teen years, while the total volume of white matter ramps up. Gray matter is overall brain tissue, white matter is the fatty coating on the axons called myelin that speeds up connectivity. The MRIs suggest the thickening of gray matter is due to massive changes in synaptic reorganization, meaning more usage and more connections (Durston et al., 2001). These cells become highly receptive to new information. But they’re not excited for the long term—the teen brain is not ready for that yet. Larger delayed rewards are valued less than smaller immediate rewards in impulsive individuals. Adolescents’ sensitivity to rewards is stronger than adults’ is.
As a result, kids seek higher levels of novelty and stimulation to achieve the same feeling of pleasure. Risk, rewards, and fun are driving their brain. Keep that in mind with teens; they’re terrible at risk management. In fact, their peers make too many decisions because, collective, no one can make up his or her mind except, often, the more impulsive ones.
But while this nearly exploding brain has more choices, it is often paralyzed by inefficiency. Just as with infants, it’s the thinning back of synapses that creates more efficient decision making. Typically, the myelination process pushes back maturing until somewhere between ages 16–20 and often this time extends into the late 20s”. Elizabeth Sowell’s work at UCLA suggests that the frontal lobes of girls mature faster than those of boys during puberty (Sowell et al., 1999). But both genders are poor at reading and interpreting emotions. Why? Certain expressions are hard to read and their frontal lobes are still too immature to damper down impulsive responses to the emotions. Brain-based learning is all about putting this into practice.
This allows girls to “connect the dots” better than boys. While most brains become physically mature between the ages of eighteen to thirty, it takes boys until about age twenty-four to catch up to girls’ brain development. Using the frontal lobes for self-regulation, teens slowly (way too slowly for most adults who live and work with them) learn about interrupting a risky behavior, thinking before acting, and choosing among different courses of action. Unfortunately, the much-needed maturation of neural networks governing self-regulation hasn’t happened in adolescence. These processes suggest that the “under construction brain” areas may be highly unstable, volatile, and unpredictable. The result is that they have a very high risk rate for accidents and injuries.
The differences are dramatic; all these changes mean that a teen’s brain needs more sleep time to learn, organize, and store new learning (Wolfson & Carskadon, 1998). One metaphor to consider is teen brains resemble blueprints more than skyscrapers. Instead of thinking about a teenage mind as an empty house that needs furnishings, educators and parents would do better to understand it as the framing of a house that still needs walls, wiring, and a roof. Stop treating teenagers like adults; they’re not. They have the highest accident rate in cars of any age group. Teens are in a developmental fog and often make decisions even a 9-year-old would call stupid. They have sound biological reasons for the following patterns:
• Susceptibility: Teens are particularly susceptible to the risky extremes of novelty. Novelty juices up their unstable systems with brain chemicals like dopamine and noradrenaline. They choose short- lasting, immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards. Their undeveloped frontal lobes play a significant role in reckless behaviors.
• Lack of planning: Teens have trouble anticipating the consequences of their behavior because they rely on their immature frontal lobes. They don’t see options very well. They get confused easily under stress and rarely plan more than one move ahead.
• Emotional stew: Emotions are essential to learning, and teens are still learning how to understand and manage emotions. They are poor at reading emotions, and weak at selecting the right friends and getting their mind outside their own world of feelings (Larson, et al. 1999).
• Crowd morality: Teenagers will climb the moral ladder only as their frontal lobes develop. They spend an average of 28-32 hours a week digital—all unsupervised, most of it alone. To balance this, they often seek friendly (even if it’s negative) peer clustering. But they’re more likely to engage in risky behaviors when they are in groups than alone.
• Difficulty in self-regulation: Teens face a huge risk of chemical imbalances for behavioral and personality disorders such as anxiety, depression, stress, eating disorders, and shifts in sleep habits. Teens are more vulnerable to all of these than adults and have few coping skills.
• Risk taking: Teens are extremely vulnerable to addiction, and compared to adults they are less cognizant of the effects of drug abuse and their addictions are harder to break. They see drugs as harmless, for the most part, and tend to believe that they can survive anything.
Does all this chaos and change suggest that the teen brain is too big of a cauldron for positive change? No, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. For good or ill, the teen brain is highly vulnerable and that’s both a curse and an opportunity. The bottom line is that they have a tough time predicting the future.
The brain’s wild ride means that multiple systems and structures are undergoing massive changes. That affects the very core of our strongest success strategy in life, predictability. Jeff Hawkins (2004) has argued persuasively in On Intelligence, that understanding, developing and enhancing our capacity to predict is what gives us our intelligence. In generally teens are very poor at prediction skills and that’s one reason they struggle so much. Their brain’s just not done maturing. For more in this, the layperson reader might enjoy: Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain. It’s a good fast, upbeat, well-researched primer. Brain-based learning means you can integrate this learning into may concepts.
The natural tendency of the teenage brain is to explore, take risks and socialize. No need for you to encourage much of that. The parent role is mediation time. Manage the risks, stay highly involved in their lives, ask questions and reduce opportunities for dangerous activities. Remember, their brains are NOT adult yet and they will not make mature, measured decisions. To maximize the teenage brain, guide it carefully through this dangerous time with focus, love and involvement.
Are Today’s Brains Any Different?
Are the brains of today’s young people any different from those of those from 50 years ago? When we say the brain changes, we of course, mean changes from the past, from the expected norm or changed from a baseline. If the brains were different, and there were changes in the brains, there should be verifiable empirical evidence in society of the changes in the behaviors of today’s children versus those of 50 years ago. There ought to be isolated underdeveloped societies in which children were not exposed to the changes in today’s urban society that show no changes in the brain. There are such cases.
Drivers of Change
What are the examples of factors that can drive change in the brain? Here are some of the changes we have seen in American children growing up as compared to 50 years ago.
Screen time: Much more sedentary time on computers, games, and TV. Is this bad for the eyes, stress levels, frontal lobes, and learning? Some argue that it means less verbal interactions, worse social skills, reduced motor skills, and shorter attention span. This may have some long-term effects on the brain. Some high school kids are taking online courses at school. This may have some long-term effects on the brain. How is online work different from a live class and what are the neural consequences? What are the kids getting exposed to and what are they missing out on? (J. Johnson et al., 2002; Strasburger and Donnerstein, 2000).
Domestic variances: This may have some long-term effects on the brain. How many parents take their children to a child care facility? What are the effects after 3 months, 6 months, or even a couple of years? Clearly this is a change in the environment over a baseline. Many parents talk of differences that they see in their children. Some evidence cited in the NICHD study suggests that there are differences in the effects of child care, particularly in the cases of extremes from very good to poor childcare. The evidence is clear that the more hours a child is in any day care, the greater the risk for behavioral problems. We know the brain is highly susceptible during these years (Kaufman et al., 2000).
Too much of a good thing: There is much greater affluence than for any generation is history. More things are done for kids than ever before. That makes for less practice in delaying gratification, less patience, and less tolerance for a more austere or less resource-consuming lifestyle. Having more is not all good and there’s a price to pay for it (Luthar, 2003). This may have some long-term effects on the brain. We do know that the ability of the frontal lobes to defer gratification is both a function of maturation and skills that are learned. If children don’t get those skills in a hurry-up world without slow board games, puzzles, reading, and other patience-building tasks, how will they get them?
Quantity time: We all hear about “quality time” but what about the quantity of it? It seems like children are getting less infant and pre-K contact with parents, less talking, less touching and caressing. The evidence is that the less maternal time early on, the more the problems later on (NICHD 2003). This may have some long-term effects on the brain. How does this change in touching affect the brain of young children? Some researchers believe it changes the stress levels for a lifetime. The brain must have enough quality time, but no one knows just how much that actually should be.
Domestic mobility: Families (and of course the children in them) move more than before (U.S. GAO, 1994). There is far more single, mobile parenting than two generations ago. Every move uses up resources and increases stress. This does affect schooling, grades, and stress. It may have some long-term effects on the brain.
Smaller families: Could this mean less close family time? There is more child time away from parents, without siblings, in larger houses! Kids have their own rooms now, instead of sharing with a sibling. This may have some long-term social and behavioral effects on the brain. Does this mean fewer relationship skills modeled and less likelihood of sharing and compromising?
Eating changes: Decrease in breast feeding and increase in formula feeding. This may influence immune systems. More quick, additive-laden, nutrient-deficient foods are eaten. More fast food is consumed, more often. This may have some long-term effects on the brain.
Greater stress: Many believe that children today grow up in a more stressed, nonstop world of 24/7 with little downtime. This means less opportunity for free, creative exploratory play. This may have some long- term effects on the brain. The stress response system can become dysregulated by distress and children are the largest group of those with stress disorders in the country.
Prenatal toxic exposure: There may be greater exposure to prenatal medication, postnatal smoking opportunities, and greater varieties of drugs. Mothers are more stressed than ever. This may have some long-term effects on the brain.
More time on the road: Today’s infants and kids spend far more time in cars compared to those of two generations ago. This car time is often spent sleeping or watching DVDs. There used to be more stimulation for kids in cars, and more chances to move around. Now, 100 percent of it belted, buckled up in a car seat. It’s much safer for children this way, but there may be some long-term effects on brain development from the inactivity.
Less playground time: Concerns about liability have cut back on playground features such as slides, ropes, monkey bars, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters, and jungle gyms. These reduce the amount of early childhood spinning, rocking, twisting, rolling, and game play that may develop sensory systems. This may have some long-term effects on the brain.
Greater postnatal exposure to toxins: The more polluted the planet, the greater the exposure to risks such as lead, smog, mites and molds and allergens. There are clear risks from each of these; recent estimates suggest allergies alone caused 1.5 million lost school days each year. These can affect learning (Bender, 1999) and may have some long-term effects on the brain. There are also questions about vaccinations given to children. While they have an overall positive effect, for some, the assault on the body’s immune system may weaken it.
Violence exposure: Today’s children have increased exposure to violence, profanity, and a general disrespect of higher social human culture. This may have some long-term effects on the brain. It has been shown to dysregulate stress responses and lead to greater rudeness and even violence.
How serious are each of the environmental events above? Would any of them cause lasting changes? Actually, every one of them has the potential for lasting changes. The greatest effect would be, of course, when multiple factors are engaged. In that case, the aggregate of five, seven, or more of the factors I’ve listed could potentially cause significant disruptive and lasting effects. But any one of them could also cause problems if it was both intense and reinforced by the environment. Most of the changes would not likely to be good, either. Brain-based learning means integrating these understandings into your work.
Do the Changes Last?
We’ve shown that the brain changes. We’ve shown that some of the changes are caused by experiences. They might be for the better or for the worse. Changes can also be subtle or traumatic. Maybe most important, it’s refreshing to know that we even have some opportunity to regulate the changes. But will any of those changes last? It’s a difficult question to answer. The most accurate answer: “Yes, maybe, and no.” Yes to certain changes, maybe to other changes, and no to different changes.
As a generalization. following things are probably true about the likelihood of changes lasting:
• The longer the exposure to any environmental factor, the more committed your nervous system becomes to coping with that experience. That means more sensory areas adapt, brain and body chemicals re-regulate themselves more completely, and stronger motor memory develops in fine and gross motor muscles as they adapt to the environment.
• The more toxic and intense the changes, the more likely they’ll last. For example, lead stays in the human body for years, and it is very difficult to get rid of it.
• The timing of the changes may influence their durability. For changes made during more sensitive times, such as birth to five or the teen years, there may be a greater vulnerability and hence greater effect on the system than the effects of changes at other times.
• The more institutional support there is for the changes, the greater the likelihood of them lasting. For example, if kids own their own Play Stations or Xbox, visit places with videogames, or can get them online easily, the community culture is supporting and strengthening the habit. The good news is that if the brain is maximized properly and the enrichment response happens, even lifelong problems can be reversed. One rodent study showed that even early stress complications could be reversed with later interventions that may be applicable for humans (Weaver, et al. 2005).
Putting it all together
We’ve seen in this chapter that the brain is changing very rapidly, from birth to age five. It is clearly a “sensitive” time in which certain changes that happen may have a greater effect during that time than another time. The brain is more vulnerable during this time both to positives and negative factors. The second time we explored was the age from 5-12. It, for the moment, appears to be a bit calmer and slightly less of a “sensitive” time for brain changes. The third time, the adolescent and teenage years from ages 12-19 appear to be another “sensitive” period for brain development and vulnerability to change.
Finally we looked at society as a whole. While there is no clear anatomical or imaging data to support this hypothesis, these two facts are clear. One, the brain does change as a result of experience and two, the experiences of today’s kids are different than those of two generations ago. This suggests to us that their brains are different. In short, it certainly looks as though the changes in our society are likely to create lasting changes in the brains of its members—our children and theirs, and ourselves. Understanding what and how the brain changes is critical for those who want to maximize brain potential.
It is clear that there are countless opportunities to make choices. Once choice may enhance or maximize brain development and another may be more neutral or even impair brain development. Yes, life is full of choices, we all know that. But the point is that certain choices will either maximize your child’s brain or contribute the mediocrity of a “neural wasteland.” Take the choices seriously; it’s not just a brain we’re talking about; it’s the life that’s either well-lived or frittered away. Brain-based learning means making good choices about what works for your brain..