Psychobiology of plasticity: effects of training and experience on brain and behavior

Behav Brain Res. 1996 Jun;78(1):57-65. doi: 10.1016/0166-4328(95)00216-2.


Supporting Hebb's 1949 hypothesis of use-induced plasticity of the nervous system, our group found in the 1960s that training or differential experience induced neurochemical changes in cerebral cortex of the rat and regional changes in weight of cortex. Further studies revealed changes in cortical thickness, size of synaptic contacts, number of dendritic spines, and dendritic branching. Similar effects were found whether rats were assigned to differential experience at weaning (25 days of age), as young adults (105 days) or as adults (285 days). Enriched early experience improved performance on several tests of learning. Cerebral results of experience in an enriched environment are similar to results of formal training. Enriched experience and training appear to evoke the same cascade of neurochemical events in causing plastic changes in brain. Sufficiently rich experience may be necessary for full growth of species-specific brain characteristics and behavioral potential. Clayton and Krebs found in 1994 that birds that normally store food have larger hippocampi than related species that do not store. This difference develops only in birds given the opportunity to store and recover food. Research on use-induced plasticity is being applied to promote child development, successful aging, and recovery from brain damage; it is also being applied to benefit animals in laboratories, zoos and farms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*