In detail

How long does it take our brain to adapt to changes?

How long does it take our brain to adapt to changes?

Although we are not aware of it, our brain is always changing slightly, adjusting itself based on our experiences.


  • 1 Brain plasticity
  • 2 Brain and cognitive skills
  • 3 Significant brain and behavioral changes
  • 4 Brain changes and psychotherapy

Brain plasticity

Neuroplasticity is a broad term that encompasses the following concepts:

Synaptic plasticity

It refers to the changes that occur in the connections between neurons. This may seem incredible, it can happen very quickly, in milliseconds practically. Although the consolidation of these changes may take much longer.

Non-synaptic plasticity

Are the changes in gene expression, axons, dendrites, ion channels and other structural and physiological factors linked to neural networks. Since this encompasses a wide range of phenomena, time scales range from milliseconds to minutes, hours and days. For example, one study showed that prolonged administration of inevitable stress to rats over ten days can lead to a decrease in dendritic branching in the hippocampus and an increase in dendritic branching in the tonsil. The hippocampus and the Tonsil are essential components of the neural circuits that make intermediary responses to stress. The hippocampus provides negative feedback regulation of the stress response and is particularly vulnerable to degenerative changes caused by chronic stress. Unlike the hippocampus, relatively little is known about how stress affects the tonsil and what is its role in the response to stress.

Another interesting mechanism of non-synaptic plasticity is the experience guided by changes in white matter and gray matter.

Learning a new skill is based on changes in brain function. This functional plasticity may be accompanied by structural changes in the gray substance of the human brain By his side, white matter could be altered with experience or training. For example, the amount of neuron activity along an axon modulates its degree of myelination and an increase in cortical re-wiring has been observed in response to mental training or brain rehabilitation.

Brain and cognitive skills

Almost all parts of the brain show some degree of plasticity. Cognitive abilities, for example, are typically associated with the prefrontal cortex, but other areas including the hippocampus, tonsil and basal ganglia are also very important. The thalamus, on the other hand, sends impulses to the entire cerebral cortex and helps coordinate all the sensory information that we receive from the outside and relates them to other areas to manage emotions and memory, among other important functions.

Presumably plasticity in the areas that send signals to these areas can also contribute to cognitive abilities. This means that virtually all parts of the brain can influence cognition. In any case, the idea that higher functions or cognition can be located in the same way as sensory and motor functions remains somewhat controversial.

You may be interested: Ci-training, free page with a multitude of mental training tests and IQ calculation

Significant brain and behavioral changes

But the question is how much does a brain change count as a significant change? That depends on the notion of significance of each.

For almost everyone learning something new is really a small change in the way you think. Conditioning experiments through fear in animals show that they are actually able to learn quite quickly. If a rodent hears a sound shortly before receiving a small electric shock, the animal will learn that the sound predicts the impact and will respond with fear the next time he hears it. As we have already said, synaptic plasticity takes place on the time scale of milliseconds to seconds.

When humans learn something new like a person's name, an email address or a phone number, we assume that there are synaptic changes taking place in our brain at that precise moment.

Learning a single concept or fact leaves its "mark" on our thinking, but without that we experience real changes in our behavior, so we would not understand them as significant changes. So that we experience great changes in our mental habits and that these are truly perceptible in the way we behave or understand life, in reality what we need is a slow accumulation of small changes that add up, so a deep structural change can take months or even years.

Brain changes and psychotherapy

And this is the reason why a psychological therapy is not like taking a pill one day and that's it. Anxiety, depression or any other problem is also not solved with a couple of "magic phrases." It is a long process that requires the patient to want to make the change and be effectively involved. (as a kind of "mental training" in his way of understanding the environment), so that over time he can make new connections and a new recalibration of thought. It is, as we say, a change in the medium or long term due to the sum of an accumulation of small moments and vital perspectives that create new connections that, in some way, must remain in the long term.


Jan Scholz, Miriam C. Klein, Timothy E.J. Behrens and Heidi Johansen-Berg. Training induces changes in white matter architecture.

S.Pajevica, P.J.Basserb, R.D. Fieldsc. Role of myelin plasticity in oscillations and synchrony of neuronal activity.

Vyas A., Mitra R., Shankaranarayana Rao BS., Chattarji S. Chronic stress induces contrast patterns of dendritic remodeling in hippocampal and tonsil neurons.