Learning something new is good for your brain, so journalist Caroline Buijs dove head first into learning the ukelele, the guitar’s little sister.
“Learning something new is good for you,” neuropsychologist Margriet Sitskoorn tells me over the phone. “Many people think that the brain is static, but that’s not true. It’s actually dynamic or, as we say, neuroplastic. Our brain is constantly growing new cells and creating connections between them, and that happens even more so when you learn or do something new.”
The new networks originate particularly in the prefrontal cortex. That area, Sitskoorn explains, is extremely important in today’s world. “Nowadays we get so much stimulation,” she says. “Think about all of the notifications on your phone and all of the emails that flood in. The prefrontal cortex regulates your emotions, your thoughts and your actions.
And that’s more important now than ever, because otherwise you would react frantically to all stimuli. You strengthen your prefrontal cortex through sleep and exercise, and this also happens when you learn something new: Cells are grown and the connections between the cells improve. As a result, you are better able to determine where to focus your attention.”
But then you have to do things that are entirely, genuinely new, says Sitskoorn, because a lot of people tend to do more of the same thing and not necessarily actually start something new. I do recognize that in myself: I’m cooking a new dish, but it’s really just another variation of my famous risotto. Instead of a granny square I might now also crochet a hexagon, but of course that is not completely new. At least I can say that playing the ukulele is something totally different, something I had never done before.
- Read the full story ‘Learning something new’ in Issue 23.
Text Caroline Buijs Photography Bonnita Postma Styling Anne-Marie Rem