What happens to your brain when you engage in daily self-education?
When we engage in learning, our brain releases a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). The release of BDNF has the effect of turning on a part of the brain called the Nucleus Basalis. When the nucleus basalis is turned on it releases a chemical called acetylcholine. The purpose of acetylcholine is to excite neurons to talk to each other. When neurons start talking to each other, a new synapse is created. The nucleus basalis is then turned off by this same protein (BDNF) and this new neural connection is locked in (sealed, so to speak) and the new learning then becomes a memory. The more we review the new learning, the stronger this new neural connection becomes and the easier it is to recall that information.
BDNF is fertilizer for the brain. It’s purpose is to help nerve cells (i.e. neurons – also known as brain cells) grow. When we make learning a daily habit (i.e. reading every day to learn) we turn on this nucleus basalis, create more neural connections (synapses) and, thus, our brains grow bigger and we become more intelligent.
There is another side benefit of daily learning that is only now being studied by neuroscientists – the more synapses we have the less likely it is that we will fall prey to Alzheimer’s disease, particularly if we continue to engage in daily learning after age sixty-five.