What we call intelligence is genetically determined. Our DNA ultimately determines how much we can learn, how much we can achieve, or how creative we can be. Unfortunately, few of us ever fully use our abilities. The utilization of these inherent talents is developed through stimuli that make connections called neuropathways within our brains. It is these connections, their number and breadth, which allows us to achieve, learn and develop our intellect. Even in our mother’s womb, the sounds of her heartbeats stimulate our hearing sensation to make appropriate connections. After birth we make broader and stronger neuropathways in response to continued stimulation of our senses through interactions with our environment, exploration and play.
Medical science once thought all such neurological connections were completed by about three years of age. Over the last ten years, neuroscience has made great leaps forward to understand the true workings of the brain. PET scans teach us that specific tasks such as speech or reasoning are not limited to predetermined areas of the brain but will utilize whatever space is available to enhance and expand these tasks. Under proper training and stimulation, the brain can make new connections, enhance older connections, and induce new interactions between various skills. What we once thought to be completed at a very young age, the neurological basis of learning, is actually a life long process.
Conversely, the failure to appropriately stimulate areas of the brain at a young age can lead to deficiencies of development in specific areas of intellect. Children with visual problems do not properly build their sight pathways. Even when corrected with eyeglasses or visual training giving them 20/20 vision, they still have difficulties learning to read or to distinguish symbols and numbers. Children who spend their early years in orphanages or child care facilities where they are confined to a crib or small space unable to explore and interact with various and differing stimuli are known to develop spatial relationship problems or motor-sensory deficiencies. These cannot be simply corrected by letting them play freely at a later time. Both these situations result in a failure to build and widen critical neuropathways needed to achieve tasks built upon fundamental learning skills. Without these neuropathways, the ability to learn and add new information is inhibited by the narrow connection made. Simply, if a child cannot count he cannot add, if he cannot add he cannot multiply, if he cannot multiply he cannot do algebra, and so on. Foundational circuitry is critical before you can add new knowledge.
Fortunately, we now recognize the brain’s ability to correct such deficiencies or enhance already developed circuits through appropriate stimuli and challenges. This is the concept of neuroplasticity, the brains ability to remodel itself to fit a task or need. Practically, this means we have the ability in the absence of organic brain disease or malformation to rebuild the brain’s circuits to allow better learning; correction of underdeveloped pathways, and further strengthening of highly developed skills.