Saturday, August 2, 2008

Plastic brains


Just finished "The brain that changes itself" of Norman Doidge which discuss new developments in brain research. Mainly the findings that brains can adapt to lost functions. Many examples are discussed of people who lost brain function due to stroke, or had only half a brain, and were able to train other parts of the brain to take over functionality.
What has this to do with institutional diversity?
In the last few years there is a lot of research on detecting areas of the brain that correlate with cooperative behavior in social dilemmas. But what if brain functions are not all genetic but in important ways wired due to repeated activities. The example of brain washing of children in North Korea is discussed in the book where children are confronted the whole day with propaganda material on adoration of the leaders and defining other nations as enemies, including in arithmetic exercises. In this way children are wired with "cultural norms" which will be difficult to unwire. Hence habitual behavior and social norms might become wired during childhood. Rewiring the brain will require persistent and repeated training of other areas of the brain. This might be possible for people who like to function after hit by a stroke, but it is less likely to expect to be plausible or desirable for changing habitual behavior. This again shows the importance of education in addressing the long term global challenges we are facing.