Friday, 28 January 2011

Frames, metaphors and neuroplasticity

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a YouTube video ( of neuroscientist Richard Davidson talking about neuroplasticity and the research showing that social-emotional learning makes physical changes in the brain. Interventions to change people's behaviour actually change the neural circuitry in the brain - changing brain function and brain structure.

Yesterday I watched the video(short version) of George Lakoff ( talking about the work of Goffman and Fillmore - Frames and Frame Analysis. He describes how "frames" are created by social-emotional connections that we interpret as metaphors, and over time these connections become stronger and form specific neural circuits. Our sense-making, and by implication, learning, appears to be directly related to the metaphors and frames we have personally developed over time.

From both the above videos, coming from slightly different perspectives, the evidence appears to show that not only is our learning and understanding constrained and determined by our previous connections and the frames that we have developed, but that new social-emotional connections can lead to new metaphors, new frames and new ways of thinking. Essentially these new connections can physically change our brains and neural circuitry.

Image: "Organic Growth" by jurvetson used from flickr under Creative Commons Licence


  1. Great posts, thank you. I'd be interested in hearing more about how you might be connecting the things we're discussing in CCK2011 with your interests in neuroscience and physics. I keep having this sense that there's something to a metaphor of connected learning and the behavior of receptor cells. For instance, recently I read that the receptors don't just sit back and wait for the right protein to come along--there is some kind of call and response? Rather than the lock and key metaphor previously used?

    ...but clearly I don't have the background to continue to pursue those thoughts. I'm hoping you'll continue those connections so I can learn!


  2. Many thanks for your comment Leah. I have a lot of thoughts which I hope to post when I get a chance! I don't have a formal background in physics or neuroscience either but find both subjects really interesting.

    I think the significance of most of the last 100 years of physics and how we understand the universe is only starting to influence educational theory. Neuroscience itself is still a relatively young area that is making significant discoveries about our brains and the way they develop and make connections. The current interest in such areas as Connectivism, Complexity theory and networks in relation to education suggests that our current science is really beginning to cross domains - perhaps in the process the whole idea of "domains" will start to get broken down as we realise more deeply how interconnected everything is.

    Your thought on metaphors and receptor cells is interesting - do you have reference for what you've been reading?

    Best wishes, Graeme