The Brain’s Amazing Plasticity

In Psychology, 11th Edition, Nathan DeWall and I illustrate brain plasticity with a 6-year-old girl who had most of her right hemisphere removed to end life-threatening seizures. In one of the most astonishing neuroscience findings, her remaining hemisphere compensated by putting other areas to work, enabling her to function well.

One medical team, reflecting on other child hemispherectomies, reported being “awed” by how well the children had retained their memory, personality, and humor. The younger the child, the greater the chance that the remaining hemisphere can take over the missing hemisphere’s functions.

Only recently did I become aware—thanks to a delightful new article by Scott Lilienfeld and Steven Jay Lynn—of a review of 52 hemispherectomy cases by Benjamin S. Carson and six of his Johns Hopkins colleagues. Nearly half of the 52, the Carson team reported, were living successful independent lives—at their age level in school or working productively.

And, yes, for the rest of the story, “Carson” is that Benjamin Carson . . . or as he later became known to millions of Americans, 2016 Republican presidential hopeful, Ben Carson.