A couple weeks ago, I told you about my personal story behind The Think Tank’s new neuroplasticity lesson. Now I’m happy to share what we taught.

Think to yourself about how strongly you agree or disagree with any of the following statements:

  1. “You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence.”

  2. “You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.”

  3. “You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic level of talent.”

  4. “You can always substantially change how much talent you have.”

We gave the same mindset questionnaire to students and put the results up on the screen. Reliably, the majority of students believed that intelligence and talent were fixed attributes. Did you think the same?

You shouldn’t! As neuroscientsts have shown in recent history, brains are moldable by experience--they’re more like Play-Doh than cinderblocks. To drill home the Play-Doh metaphor, we had students perform our favorite BrainU experiment.

First they performed a simple baseline task: throw beanbags underhand to hit a target five times in a row. Easy.

Stage two was more tricky. We outfitted them with prism goggles, shifting their vision several centimeters to the right. While our bean bag tossers toiled, the rest of the class shouted out the direction of their misses: “Right!” “Right!” “Hit--wait, no--right!” As you can see, there was a trend.

However, then something special happened: “Right!” “Right!” “Hit!” “Hit!” “Hit!” The bean bags started hitting their target. The bean bag tossers’ Play-Doh-like brains had adapted to their shifted visual world.

Finally, the tosser took their goggles off for one final round, relieved that their world was back to normal. Except it wasn’t. “Left!” “Left!” “Left!” To the tossers’ amazement, they missed toss after toss until eventually, again, their brains adapted. “Hit!”

If we were able to dramatically change the way their brains worked in just five minutes, we asked, what other things might be possible? We explained how this same process of neuroplasticity applies not only when wearing prism goggles, but also when they learned how to ride a bike, when they become masters of a new iPhone game--even when they learn math and science. What this means is that statements like “I’m not good at math” are almost meaningless. Instead, as Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck suggest, we should say, “I’m not good at math...yet!

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