The Brain That Changes Itself Book Summary By Norman Doidge

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge is an inspiring and groundbreaking book about the incredible potential of the human brain.

Through interviews with scientists, doctors and patients, Doidge shows us how our brains have the ability to change, regenerate and grow - even under unlikely circumstances such as stroke victims learning to use a fork or button their shirts again.

The book gives us a look at how, instead of relying on medicine or surgery, we can use thought and behavior to alter our brains in ways we never imagined possible.

Book Name: The Brain that Changes Itself (Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science)

Author(s): Norman Doidge

Rating: 4.5/5

Reading Time: 22 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

Norman Doidge is a renowned author and research scientist.

He has earned the title of best-selling author with his book The Brain That Changes Itself and it has also been widely featured in many well-known publications such as The Wall Street Journal, TIME and The Guardian.

As a leader in the psychiatry and psychoanalysis fields, he also holds positions at Columbia University's Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research as well as at the University of Toronto's Department of Psychiatry.

Doidge is regularly seen on popular television shows, radio programs, and other media outlets.

Discover How The Human Brain Is Similar To Doctor Who: Learn About Its Amazing Regenerative Powers And Adaptability

The awesome regenerative power of your brain never ceases to amaze us.

From Doctor Who and beyond, we now understand the incredible capacity of our brains to adapt and grow in response to injury, threats and stimuli.

This is part of what makes us so adaptive as humans – that our brains can change, develop and heal itself over time.

In The Brain That Changes Itself book summary, you get to discover this amazing power first hand.

Here, you’ll learn why libido isn’t set in stone; explore how important thinking is for beating dementia; and why actively thinking through some of your problems can help you move forward and make a difference in your life.

Basically, learning about the brain’s regenerative power can open up pathways for greater understanding – understand yourself better, understand others better – helping bridge gaps between the two so we can all move together towards a better future.

How Neuroplasticity Revolutionized The Way We View Our Brain’S Capacity For Change

The idea that the brain could be changed or “rewired” was once thought to be impossible.

Thankfully, through neuroplasticity – the brain’s capability of continuing change – we now know this isn’t true.

One way in which the brain reorganizes itself is through a process called unmasking.

This happens when one neural pathway is shut off and a secondary one is exposed, with repeated use making it stronger.

Cheryl Schiltz is a great example of this phenomenon: She had lost almost all of her vestibular system (needed for balance) until pioneering neuroplasticist Paul Bach-y-Rita designed a special accelerometer device that sent signals to electrodes on her tongue.

The sensations from her tongue were then redirected towards the area in Schiltz’s brain that processes balance, allowing a new pathway to be unmasked and strengthened as she practiced with it regularly- eventually regaining her balance on her own!

It’s amazing what our brains can do when given the right opportunity; The Brain That Changes Itself shows us just how powerful neuroplasticity can be, with each page further demonstrating the incredible potential of our minds and bodies.

The Plasticity Of The Brain: How Barbara Arrowsmith Young Changed Her Life With Mental Exercises

It’s a well-known fact that our brains are able to change.

But did you know that stimulating activities can actually alter the physical structure of the brain? This was demonstrated by biologist Mark Rosenzweig at the University of California, Berkeley, in experiments with rats– he found that those in stimulating environments had more neurotransmitters, weighed more, and had better blood supply.

One person who took advantage of this knowledge was Barbara Arrowsmith Young.

Though she excelled in auditory and visual memory, she faced difficulties understanding grammar rules, math concepts, logic and cause and effect.

Young decided to take it upon herself to adapt her brain structure through cognitive exercises.

She read through cards containing clock faces while attempting to tell the time on them – if she got it wrong then she would spend hours trying to learn the relationships between the clock hands.

By doing this for weeks on end, her brain eventually adjusted itself and she was soon able to read clocks faster than anyone else!

This case is a testament to how motivated people can use targeted activities to truly enhance their mental skills – these actions directly affect changes in the structure of our brains!

The Amazing Plasticity Of The Adult Brain Revealed By Michael Merzenich’S Brain Maps

The brain is a fascinating organ and one fact remains true – it is plastic.

This means that as the body changes, so too does the brain.

Michael Merzenich, an eminent brain scientist, proved this through his brain maps which illustrated how sections of the brain control certain parts of the body and how movements are processed.

His discoveries showed that people can re-organize their brains in response to changes in input signals from their bodies.


Penfield, who first popularized brain mapping in the 1930s, observed that areas adjacent to each other on the body were also generally adjacent to each other on the brain map.

This cutting-edge theory became more concrete when Merzenich and Jon Kaas conducted an experiment with monkeys – they found that after two months from when they had severed a median nerve in a monkey’s arm, they touched what used to be the median nerve map but was now larger and occupied by neighbouring nerves!

In short, The Brain That Changes Itself clearly shows us that our brains have tremendous potential for reorganization and growth even late into life – a fact worth remembering!

How Brain Plasticity Can Shape Our Sexual Preferences

It turns out that our sexual libido is also plastic and changeable – just like any other brain function.

Scientists have found evidence that the hypothalamus, which is responsible for instinctive behaviors such as sex, and the amygdala, which processes emotion, are both regions of heightened plasticity in our brains.

This means that we can develop particular sexual preferences during critical periods in our lives, which stay with us throughout adulthood – whether it’s to do with a cold or distant parent figure, or due to external influences such as modern pornography.

Pornography has a particularly powerful effect on our evolving tastes and arousal patterns: as it stimulates all manner of latent sexual preferences at once, dopamine gets released and we become intensely pleasured by the activity – causing us to repeat it and strengthen these neural networks in the process.

In short, if you ever find yourself becoming more drawn towards certain kinds of sexual images or behaviours than you were before, it’s entirely possible that your experiences have been moulding your thoughts and desires over time – making your libido a lot more changeable than you might think!

The Healing Power Of Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy And Shaping

Our brains can be rewired with simple exercises and shaping technique!


Bernstein, an eye surgeon, was able to heal himself from the negative effects of a stroke by engaging in everyday tasks like cleaning windows and wiping tables—proving that repetitive actions can rewire our brain.

Edward Taub’s constraint-induced (CI) movement therapy also helps in this process as it forces us to use our injured limb, thus stimulating our brain to progress.

Interestingly, Taub found that when monkeys lose sensory input from their limbs, they continued to use them since they simply never learned that their arms don’t function!

This is due to spinal shock which causes neurons difficulty firing and learning that we shouldn’t use the body part which has lost input.

However, this doesn’t happen when only one part of the body loses input.

Shaping is another useful technique for training our brains; rewards are given for every movement made towards a specific goal or task – such as reaching for food – making the training remarkably effective if done on a regular basis in short spans of time (known as massed practice).

Through techniques like these and simple brain exercises, we can rewire our minds even after sustaining severe physical injury!

Brain Plasticity Can Help Us Overcome Conditions Like Anxiety And Ocd

Brain scans can help us better understand conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and enable us to develop plasticity-based treatments to help those suffering from it.

It has been shown that there is a significant difference between the brains of OCD patients and those unaffected by it, as revealed by UCLA psychiatrist Jeffrey M.


When most of us make a mistake, we experience feelings of anxiety and focus our attention on rectifying the situation; however, in persons with OCD, the brain’s caudate nucleus fails to switch this off so the unwanted worrying persists.

Through analyzing these scans, it is possible to come up with effective treatment methods for cases of OCD based on our knowledge of plasticity.

Voluntary activities such as purposely focusing on something else can aid in activating the caudate nucleus in an affected person’s brain.

Such activities could range from helping another person or even playing a musical instrument — those involving other people being especially useful in holding the patient’s focus.

Even if you are alone somewhere, having an audiobook on hand can be enough to shift your thinking away from obsessing about something you may have done wrong.

With repeated practice, new pleasure circuit connections start to form between neurons which rewards each time and reinforces the activity until eventually becoming stronger than what was present with beforehand.

This process enables long lasting solutions where old habits can be replaced with new healthy ones that reduce symptoms of OCD without requiring frequent medical attention over long periods of time.

Using Neuroplasticity To Overcome Phantom Pain After Losing A Limb

The Brain That Changes Itself by V.


Ramachandran highlights how the power of imagination can help those with lost limbs conquer their phantom pain.

This type of pain, often experienced by soldiers with amputations or accident survivors, is brought on when the brain map for the missing limb still expects input, leading to an ‘illusion of bodily pain.’

In trying to get around this issue, Ramachandran used a tricking method involving a mirror box – where a person looked into a mirror and moved the working arm like they were moving their phantom arm..

After just four weeks with this therapy at ten minutes a day, Philip Martinez was fully relieved of his phantom pains – showing that even without physical contact one can work to restore balance in their brain maps.

This goes to show that imagination alone is powerful enough to allow people suffering from phantom pains reconcile any issues caused by lost limbs.

It’s astounding what our imaginations are capable of doing for us!

Visualization Can Create Physical Changes In The Brain And Body

Imaginative thinking can be incredibly powerful when it comes to changing your brain.

As Alvaro Pascual-Leone from Harvard Medical School put it, you can use your imagination to alter the way your brain works and, ultimately, improve its performance.

Backed up by experiments, research has shown that visualizing an action or imagined exercise can have the same effect on the motor system as actually performing it.

Studies also revealed that people who used imagination to perform exercises were able to strengthen their muscles by up to 30 percent — a similar result to those who did physically exercise for the same amount of time!

This is because imagining an action and actually doing it engages numerous areas in the brain in almost the same way.

The primary visual cortex becomes active during visualization, providing amazing evidence of how effective we can be at times even without actual physical practice.

Thanks to modern science and imagination, we now know that our brains are deeply malleable and capable of great change – changes which may even occur through simple thought.

Sigmund Freud’S Insights Into The Plasticity Of The Mind Through Psychotherapy

The idea of neuroplasticity in psychotherapy dates back to the nineteenth century, pioneered by Sigmund Freud.

Freud introduced the concept that when two neurons fire together, they make a connection and form a lasting bond – what is now known as ‘Hebb’s Law’.

It is this fundamental principle of neuroplasticity that is at the heart of talk therapy.

Psychoanalysis works because it helps people identify and connect seemingly-unrelated mental trails into a cohesive whole, allowing them to gain insight into how their thoughts and behaviors are affected by past traumas or experiences.

Through psychoanalysis, patients can reexamine notions around early childhood development that were once thought to be immutable; often finding new ways to cope with associated issues in adulthood – something that could not happen without taking advantage of the plasticity of the brain.

We can clearly see this change from Mr.

L., who after 40 years of depression was able to move on from his grief over his mother’s death and form close relationships with other women.

This showcases how psychoanalysis, or talk therapy, is indeed a powerful tool for optimizing your brain’s plasticity.

Brain Regeneration: Unlocking The Power Of Neuronal Stem Cells And Stimulating Activities

When it comes to combating the effects of aging, recent research has shown us that neuronal stem cells can help us preserve our brains as we get older.

These cells, which don’t age like other organs such as skin, are found active in various brain regions, including the hippocampus and olfactory bulb.

Not only do these stem cells constantly replicate copies of themselves without showing any signs of aging, they can also increase the number of neurons and enhance their longevity.

To take advantage of this process, known as neurogenesis, we need to expose ourselves to new environments where we learn new things and engage in physical exercises that supply oxygen to our brains.

Doing so not only helps create new neurons but may also reduce our risk for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia later in life.

The Remarkable Brain Plasticity Of Mirror Region Takeover

Mirror region takeover is a kind of brain plasticity that is worthy of our consideration.

It refers to when one part of the brain hemisphere fails, and the region from its ‘mirror’ hemisphere attempts to take over its function.

Michelle Mack is an excellent example; she has only a right brain hemisphere and no left at all, yet she functions like any other normal person.

Mack’s case demonstrates that it does not matter which side of the brain takes charge of certain skills, as her right shows proficiency in language processing which would normally belong to the left.

Additionally, mirror region takeover can even occur in our earliest stages – scans of babies up to a year old have shown they process new sounds in both hemispheres.

It is only by two years old that specialization takes place, with the left hemisphere becoming responsible for speech.

Overall, this reveals just another avenue through which our brains accommodate change and adaptation.

Wrap Up

The Brain that Changes Itself is a thought-provoking book that highlights the amazing power and plasticity of our brains.

By changing our thought patterns and behaviors, we are able to regenerate neurons which can help us recover from physical and mental injuries.

The most actionable advice explored in this book is to stay active.

Doing activities like learning new languages or instruments, joining a Tai Chi class or doing regular physical exercise keeps your brain active and alert which staves off degenerative disorders like dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Benjamin Franklin provides the ultimate inspiration for staying active at an old age; he created bifocal spectacles at the ripe age 78!

All in all, this book provides important information on how to keep our minds sharp as we age and emphasizes the fact that it is never too late to learn something new.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.