What are the Different Forms of Neuroplasticity?




Published on

June 05, 2024


Updated on

June 05, 2024

Medically Reviewed by

Ben Ahrens, HHP


The different elements that make up neuroplasticity can at first, seem complicated since the brain is indeed a wonderfully complex organ. But neuroplasticity can be broken down in ways that make the concept much easier to understand.

There are two main types of neuroplasticity: Structural and functional neuroplasticity. In this article, we’re going to discuss these two types and how they differ from one another, as well as the benefits that can come with utilizing neuroplasticity.

What is Neuroplasticity?

To put it very simply, neuroplasticity is the adaptation and rewiring of neural connections within the brain[1]. Through repetition of stimuli and experience, the neurons within the brain create new pathways to communicate with one another – which is why the phrase “neurons that fire together, wire together” is commonly used when explaining this process. Neuroplasticity is what gives us the ability to learn and adapt as we have different experiences through our lives. It can also be applied with intention in certain scenarios by working to target specific concerns through the retraining process. When there is trauma to the brain or when the limbic system is working in overdrive, neuroplasticity can be applied deliberately.

When the brain function and health of an individual is compromised, engaging in a neuroplasticity training program can provide the right guidance to heal the problem at the source.

Benefits of Neuroplasticity

Since the discovery of neuroplasticity in the early 20th century, we’ve been able to figure out some of the different ways in which people can benefit significantly from the intentional application of this capability. A few of the ways in which neuroplasticity is understood to benefit people of all ages include:

  • Recovering from injuries and trauma to the brain
  • Improving cognition and memory
  • Acquiring new skills
  • Reducing chronic pain and symptoms related to neurological or inflammatory processes.

There is compelling research to suggest that conditions such as brain fog, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, and even dementia may be able to be improved through the use of intentional neuroplasticity training. Some individuals have attested to their experience that illnesses that are often life-altering and seemingly impossible to reverse, were greatly improved through the use of neuroplasticity brain retraining.

At first, it was believed that it was impossible for neuroplasticity to be applied past young adulthood, and that neurons only dwindled after childhood. We know now that this is not only untrue, but that we’re even able to form new neurons throughout our lives[2].

The Two Types of Neuroplasticity

While neuroplasticity is the word used to describe the overall process of neural adaptation and restructuring, there are two main subtypes. These types are known as structural and functional plasticity. These types both result in new and stronger neural connections, but the process in which this happens differs between the two types.

Structural Plasticity

Structural plasticity occurs when neural connections change their actual structure to create more efficient networks through learning and experience. As a person grows and has their own unique experiences, the neural pathways organize themselves and strengthen when they are used repeatedly. The pathways that are not regularly used get discarded, or pruned[3].

Functional Plasticity

Functional plasticity is a bit more complex than structural plasticity because it is the process that takes place as a result of some form of trauma or damage to the brain. Essentially, the neurons from an area of the brain that was not harmed shift into the damaged portion to take over the lost functions. Neurons that were not being utilized otherwise are able to execute the necessary functions in these scenarios[3]. An example of this would be when someone gains back motor function after it was lost due to a stroke. When it comes to functional plasticity, there are four primary forms that exist.

Homologous Area Adaptation

Homologous area adaptation is the process that takes place when an area of the brain is harmed and another unharmed region takes over or adopts the functions and operations of the damaged portion. This typically occurs within the area of the brain that is in the exact opposite region of the injured area, so if there is damage in the temporal lobe in the left hemisphere, homologous area adaptation makes it possible for the right hemisphere to take over the functions in the harmed region. This is especially useful and effective during the early years of life.

Cross-Modal Reassignment

Cross-modal reassignment is involved with the perception of sensory information. When a region of the brain that is responsible for processing one of the senses (like hearing) is harmed, another region that’s in charge of another sense (such as sight) can help compensate for it. A good example of this is when someone becomes blind, and their sense of hearing or touch becomes enhanced to compensate for the sense that is no longer working. This 2016 study discusses the indication of cross-modal reassignment occurring between the visual and auditory cortexes in both deaf children and adults, suggesting that neuroplasticity can aid significantly in the intervention process when hearing loss begins to occur.

Map Expansion

Map expansion occurs when the brain is able to recognize that a particular portion of itself is getting used more than other areas, so it essentially expands the more frequently used area. This phenomenon can be related to musicians who are constantly practicing and utilizing certain parts of their body more than others to play their instrument. Over time and with exposure, these parts become stronger and the act of playing becomes more effortless.

Compensatory Masquerade

Compensatory masquerading is the process in which the brain utilizes a different method to conduct an action or to recall information in a novel way. An example of compensatory masquerading taking place is when a person can no longer recall how to navigate somewhere by sensing where they are, but instead uses step-by-step instructions[3].

We know that neuroplasticity is the brain’s way of adapting to new circumstances and stimuli whether there has been some form of trauma or not, but it can be even further broken down into all these different subtypes that serve their own unique purposes, depending on the type of neural restructuring that needs to take place. There is still much to understand about this remarkable ability the brain has, but we’ve been able to see through brain imaging, how these various forms of neuroplasticity are engaged in the different circumstances.

At re-origin, we’ve cultivated a community-based neuroplasticity training program that utilizes these different forms of neuroplasticity to help improve the issues or symptoms that our members are experiencing. Neuroplasticity has shown us that it’s entirely possible to heal from certain types of diminished or impaired brain functions, and it may be one of the major keys to combating negative symptoms and side effects that arise as a result of damage to the brain or when the limbic system is not operating correctly. Here at re-origin, we’re dedicated to helping everyone we can to improve the function of their own brain and resume a higher quality of life.