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Running head: THE POWER OF RESLIENCE AND NEUROPLASTICITY

The Power of Resilience and Neuroplasticity: A view from Psychology


Lucero Vargas
Salt Lake Community College

THE POWER OF RESILIENCE AND NEUROPLASTICITY


Resilience is the ability to bounce back. It can be as simple as a pair of jeans bouncing
back from being stretch. But what is the definition of resilience in psychology? Resilience has
been defined as a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of
significant adversity (Luther et al., 2000, p. 543). In other words resilience is the The capacity
to adapt well to significant adversity and to overcome serious stress (Berger, 2014, p. 287).
Another term that goes hand by hand with resilience is neuroplasticity which the The brains
ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life (Definition of
Neuroplasticity, n.d.).
In the article, A Learning Machine: Plasticity and Change Throughout life, it explains
about neuroplasticity and it gives specific examples showing how the brain has the ability to
reorganize itself by mechanisms in which undamaged axons grow new nerve endings to
reconnect neurons whose links were injured or severed (Definition of Neuroplasticity, n.d.). In
one example done by Gregg Recanzone, he did an experiment with adult owl monkeys, and
exposed them to two tones and began decreasing the difference between them over time. After
several weeks they were able to tell the difference between two tones. This shows that the brain
can be trained to increase its sensitivity to various stimuli. (Nelson, 2006, p. 27).
Another example of how the brain shows neuroplasticity over the lifespan is an
experiment done by Walter Mischel. He looked into temptation and how we learn to delay
gratification. Children were shown a picture of a cake, and were asked to describe to how they
felt when they saw it. They gave cool responses but when they were asked to imagine the cake
was real their responses were hot even though they knew the cake wasnt real. Mr. Mischel
came to the conclusion that the brain can conceive two representations of an object, a cool
representation of its abstract aspects and a hot representation of its rewarding traits. The

THE POWER OF RESILIENCE AND NEUROPLASTICITY


childrens power to delay gratification at such a young age is a good predictor of later coping
ability (Nelson, 2006, p 28).
Some people go throughout their lives not knowing if they possess the positive trait
resilience. According to the article, A Question of Resilience, resilience is defined by springing
back from serious adversity. You show you possess the trait if you are coping with something
terrible that has affected your life yet you are living a successful life. With the sisters LaTanya
and Tichelle, everybody believed them to become troublemakers since they were abused, and
lived in a low income household. Yet they showed everyone wrong and became successful adults
who own their owns cars, have their own household and have obtained a career. Another
example is by a experiment done at a laboratory run by the National Institutes of Health. They
studied 500 rhesus monkeys and each year they divided them into two groups. One group lived
with their mother and another group were separated from their mother and lived with peers. They
found that the monkeys who did not have the resilience trait are more likely to experience fear,
panic and aggression (Bazelon, 2008) when they were in company of a monkey who did they not
know. The monkeys who did possess resilience were taking the presence of the monkey in stride
as the monkeys who were raised by their mothers did. This shows that if you have resilience
trait, you are more likely to act toward situations normally even if something that is strongly
negative has affected your life.
The latest research shows that resilience can best be understood as interplay between
particular genes and environment (Bonzelon, 2006). Scientists have also shown that 5-HTT is
important for the regulation of serotonin to the brain. Serotonin is important to the brain since
its a kind of a protective barrier against stress and trauma. In humans each 5-HTT gene has two
alleles, and each allele occurs in either a short or long version. Experiments have shown that

THE POWER OF RESILIENCE AND NEUROPLASTICITY


people with at least one short 5-HTT allele are more likely to have depression. With depression a
person can become anti-social which can cause friendships ending, being fired from a job and
more likely to use drugs. In a 2003, Laspi and Moffit looked at 847 adults and found a link
between having at least one short 5-HTT allele and elevated rates of depression for people who
have been mistreated as children or experience several life stresses. Two long alleles gave the
adults a good chance of bouncing back under negative circumstances (Bazelon, 2006).
With the information I have gained I have come to the understanding that not everyone
can be resilient since it has part to do with your genes. With this knowledge I know now not too
harshly criticize someone if they are going through a rough time and is not being able to still live
a successful life. In my own personal life I have previously heard about resilience in a
behaviorism class that I was in previously in high school. The teacher taught us that resilience is
the key to success and that we have to teach ourselves how to become resilient. With
neuroplasticity I believe that could happen since we are rewiring our brains to overcome
situations. Yes it would be more difficult for people who have one short 5-HTT allele but the
human brain is such a powerful tool that if someone tried hard enough they could still become
successful in life. For example LaTanya had one short 5-HTT allele and the odds were against
her becoming successful yet she still gained herself a career and a home. Yes she has depressing
moments but she overcomes them and is teaching herself how to deal with them. This
information will be important for people to know since if they are ever feeling depressed they
should know that they are more prone to depressions because of their brain development.

THE POWER OF RESILIENCE AND NEUROPLASTICITY

References

Bazelon, E. (2006). A Question of Resilience. New York, NY: The New York Times
Berger, K.S. (2014). Invitation to the life span. New York, NY: Worth Publisher
Nelson, L (2006). A learning machine: Plasticity and change throughout Life. APS observer.