Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-lxvtp Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-24T15:19:55.823Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

1 - Plasticity in Sensory Systems

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2013

Jennifer K. E. Steeves
York University
Laurence R. Harris
York University
Jennifer K. E. Steeves
York University, Toronto
Laurence R. Harris
York University, Toronto
Get access


Over the past ten or so years, brain plasticity has become an extremely hot scientific trend and a huge commercial enterprise. From the parent who wants to give his or her newborn an enriched environment to promote superior brain growth to the aging adult who wants to stave off Alzheimer's disease, exercising, enriching, and training the brain has become a multimillion-dollar industry. Hundreds of brain promotion companies have sprouted up, such as The Baby Einstein Company, LLC, and hundreds of new books are published each year on brain enrichment. “Brain health,” “brain training,” and “brain fitness” are terms that are bandied about in the advertising world, suggestive of the possibility of improving and prolonging intellectual health. However, this “brain improvement” commercialism, although occasionally overstated, is not without some foundation in hard science: the discovery of brain plasticity.

The roots of the concept of “brain plasticity” can be traced toWilliam James's seminal work, The Principles of Psychology (1890), in which he clearly understood that behavior, habits, or instincts are governed by certain physiological limitations. He states, “Plasticity, … in the wide sense of the word, means the possession of a structure weak enough to yield to an influence, but strong enough not to yield all at once.… Organic matter, especially nervous tissue, seems endowed with a very extraordinary degree of plasticity of this sort; so that we may without hesitation lay down as our first proposition the following, that the phenomena of habit in living beings are due to the plasticity of the organic materials of which their bodies are composed” (p. 106).

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adrian, E. D. and Bronk, D. W. (1928). The discharge of impulses in motor nerve fibres: part I. Impulses in single fibres of the phrenic nerve. J. Physiol., 66: 81–101.Google Scholar
Bach-y-Rita, P., Collins, C. C., Saunders, F. A., White, B. and Scadden, L. (1969). Vision substitution by tactile image projection. Nature, 221: 963–964.Google Scholar
Collignon, O., Vandewalle, G., Voss, P., Albouy, G., Charbonneau, G., Lassonde, M. and Lepore, F. (2011). Functional specialization for auditory-spatial processing in the occipital cortex of congenitally blind humans. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 108: 4435–4440.Google Scholar
Cooke, S. F. and Bliss, T. V. (2006). Plasticity in the human central nervous system. Brain, 129: 1659–1673.Google Scholar
Fox, K. (1992). A critical period for experience-dependent synaptic plasticity in rat barrel cortex. J. Neurosci., 12: 1826–1838.Google Scholar
Hebb, D. O. (1949). The Organization of Behavior. New York: Wiley.
Hubel, D. H. and Wiesel, T. N. (1959). Receptive fields of single units in the cat's striate cortex. J. Physiol., 148: 574–591.Google Scholar
Hubel, D. H. and Wiesel, T. N. (1962).Receptive fields, binocular interaction, and functional architecture in the cat's visual cortex. J. Physiol., 160: 106–154.Google Scholar
Hubel, D. H. and Wiesel, T. N. (1970). The period of susceptibility to the physiological effects of unilateral eye closure in kittens. J Physiol., 206: 419–436.Google Scholar
Hubel, D. H., Wiesel, T. N. and LeVay, S. (1977). Plasticity of ocular dominance columns in monkey striate cortex. Philos. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. Biol. Sci., 278: 377–409.Google Scholar
James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt.
Kaas, J. H., Merzenich, M. M. and Killackey, H. P. (1983). The reorganization of somatosensory cortex following peripheral nerve damage in adult and developing mammals. Annu. Rev. Neurosci., 6: 325–356.Google Scholar
Merzenich, M. M., Nelson, R. J., Stryker, M. P., Cynader, M. S., Schoppmann, A. and Zook, J. M. (1984). Somatosensory cortical map changes following digit amputation in adult monkeys. J. Comp. Neurol., 224: 591–605.Google Scholar
Mountcastle, V. B. (1957). Modality and topographic properties of single neurons in cat's somatic sensory cortex. J. Neurophysiol., 20: 408–434.Google Scholar
Nakahara, H., Zhang, L. I. and Merzenich, M. M. (2004). Specialization of primary auditory cortex processing by sound exposure in the “critical period.”Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 101: 7170–7174.Google Scholar
Nudo, R. J.,Milliken, G. W., Jenkins, W.M. and Merzenich, M. M. (1996). Use-dependent alterations of movement representations in primary motor cortex of adult squirrel monkeys. J. Neurosci., 16: 785–807.Google Scholar
Popescu, M. V. and Polley, D. B. (2010). Monaural deprivation disrupts development of binaural selectivity in auditory midbrain and cortex. Neuron, 65: 718–731.Google Scholar
Richardson, B. L. and Wuillemin, D. B. (1981). Critical periods for the transmission of tactual information. Int. J. Rehabil. Res., 4: 175–179.Google Scholar
Sterr, A. and Conforto, A. B. (2012). Plasticity of adult sensorimotor system in severe brain infarcts: challenges and opportunities. Neural Plast., 2012: 970136.
Wiesel, T. N. and Hubel, D. H. (1963). Single cell responses in striate cortex of kittens deprived of vision in one eye. J. Neurophysiol., 26: 1003–1017.Google Scholar
Wiesel, T. N. and Hubel, D. H. (1965a). Comparison of the effects of unilateral and bilateral eye closure on cortical unit responses in kittens. J. Neurophysiol., 28: 1029–1040.Google Scholar
Wiesel, T. N. and Hubel, D. H. (1965b). Extent of recovery from the effects of visual deprivation in kittens. J. Neurophysiol., 28: 1060–1072.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats