• Question: I have read that learning happens when synapses between neurons are created - I appreciate this is fairly simplistic, but how close to reality is it? (Do we know?)

    Asked by boysong1 to Alice, Iroise, Kathryn, Lucy, Mark, Rebecca on 3 Jan 2018.
    • Photo: Mark Mon-Williams

      Mark Mon-Williams answered on 3 Jan 2018:

      learning certainly involves synapses… but it’s not about creating synapses.

      Synapses describe the space between neurons (nerve cells) and neurons communicate with each other by passing chemicals through the synaptic space (as the nerve cells don’t actually touch each other)…

      learning involves altering the connections between neurons so that the neurons communicate more quickly and efficiently with each other… so learning alters the synapses (rather than creating them)

      The neurophysiology is reasonably well established and there are good computational models of neural learning – so we have some knowledge… but there is an awful lot more that we don’t understand about human learning!

      I hope that helps


    • Photo: Rebecca Merkley

      Rebecca Merkley answered on 8 Feb 2018:

      This video is a nice illustration of what we do know about how learning alters the synapses, or connections, between neurons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNNsN9IJkws&t=28s