Philosophical Society of Washington

The 63rd Joseph Henry Lecture:

Environmental Influences on Brain Structure and Function

Marian Diamond
Professor of Anatomy, Department of Integrative Biology, and Director, Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California, Berkeley

2029th Meeting Abstract
Friday, May 13, 1994 at 8:30 PM


There was a time when scientists believed the brain, once completely formed, was immutable. Now we know otherwise, especially the cerebral cortex, which deals with higher cognitive processing. The cerebral cortex, the last part of the brain to develop embryologically and phylogenetically, has been shown to retain its ability to change its structure and consequently its function, at any age from youth to very old age. What factors are responsible for these changes has been the challenge of our laboratory research for over 30 years. Both the internal and external environments, sex and adrenal steroid hormones, and diet, are constantly influencing the cortical morphology. This talk will review our research which supports the "new" adage, you can teach an old dog new tricks, though it may take a little longer. It will also discuss how its application has shown that we can nurture our brains, as well as our bodies, to keep them healthy and agile throughout a lifetime.

About the Author:

Marian Cleeves Diamond is currently Professor of Anatomy and Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California at Berkeley. She earned a B.A. and Ph.D from this university and has been a member of its faculty for 30 years. Besides being a recipient of the university's Outstanding Teacher Award, she was also named California Professor of the Year and National Gold Medalist for 1989-1990. Ms. Diamond specializes in brain research and is particularly interested in environmental effects on the brain. Author of 142 scientific articles in professional journals, she has also written several books including Enriching Heredity which describes the research she will be discussing, and The Human Brain Coloring Book, a publication that helps students of all ages better understand the function and structure of the human brain. Ms. Diamond is a Fellow of AAAS, and a member of the San Francisco Chronicle Hall of Fame.

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