The limits of

neural

plasticity

 

 

 

 

Sociological reductionist feminism
wrongly argues that if there is

neuronal plasticity, that means that

everything is modifiable

by experience.

 

The knowledge that the brain has plasticity (the capacity to change as a reaction to the diversity of the environment) is promoted by sociological reductionist feminism with the idea that if there were differences in brains of men and women, it would be entirely the result of experience. The brain has plasticity, but not everything is modifiable by experience: sexual orientation of most men, for example, which unfolds in adolescence with hormonal changes, is not modified by experience (Bailey et al, 2016) .

Some parts of the mind have no plasticity. Two good examples are those studied by

Anderson, Damasio y colegas (1999), with regard to the injury of two children in the ventromedial and prefrontal orbital cortex, a region of the brain that remains above the eyes and regulates empathy, social skills and self-control. Both recovered from the injuries and were raised in stable homes, had an average IQ, their parents were university graduates. Steven Pinker refers to this study in his book "The Blank Slate", and argues that if the brain were totally plastic, the character of the children should have been configured entirely by a normal social environment, but as an adult the woman lied permanently, was not afraid of punishment  and had a character that disturbed all her relationships. The case of the boy is similar, although unlike the girl, his injury did not come from an accident but from a tumor.

Both cases refer to an earlier one, the one of the railway worker Phineas Gage, who lived in Vermont between 1823 and 1861, and due to an accident suffered severe damage to his brain, also in the region of the frontal lobe. Gage had notable changes in his personality and temperament after the accident, and this was considered a proof that frontal lobes were responsible for processes related to emotions, personality and executive functions in general. From having a good character he became irreverent and impatient, and could not keep a job for a long time because he quarreled with his coworkers.

Human beings have a set of adaptive mechanisms or "softwares" that interact with experience. The capacity of adaptation and change to the demands that  the environment proposes to the brain have been very well documented, as well as its limitations. Experience is not 100% of the story. Knowing this  is of crucial importance to increase our objective knowledge of the brain and to develop adequate diagnoses of the problematic situations that involve it.

 

Anderson, S. W., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., & Damasio, A. R. (1999). Impairment of social and moral behavior related to early damage in human prefrontal cortex. Nature neuroscience, 2 (11), 1032.

Bailey, J. M., Vasey, P. L., Diamond, L. M., Breedlove, S. M., Vilain, E., & Epprecht, M. (2016). Sexual orientation, controversy, and science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 17(2), 45-101.

Pinker, Steven, The Blank Slate (2003): The Modern Denial of Human Nature, Penguin.