Neuroplasticity, Growth Mindset & The Qur’an
Disclaimer; I absolutely love neuroscience so there’s going to be a lot of it !
Our brains are truly magnificent, aren’t they?
Have you ever watched one of those specials on someone who experienced an amazing, unexpected recovery after a traumatic brain injury, stroke, or other brain damage? Some of those stories can’t help but strengthen your Iman.
Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt. Or, as Dr. Campbell puts it:
“It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences” – Celeste Campbell (n.d.).
When we learn something new, we create new connections between our neurons. This happens on a daily basis, but it’s also something that we can encourage and stimulate.
Now how can we relate this to the growth mindset?
‘The concepts mirror each other; a growth mindset is a mindset that one’s innate skills, talents, and abilities can be developed and/or improved with determination, while neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to adapt and develop beyond the usual developmental period of childhood.’
According to psychologist Carol Dweck, “fixed mindset students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb.”
So something as simple as the way you praise a child can affect their mindset. Saying something like, “Great job on that test! You must be so smart!” may sound good and harmless, but it can actually have a negative effect and create a fixed mindset.
Instead of telling a child he must have done well because he is smart, try saying something like, “Great job on that test! You must have worked really hard!” Focusing on the work it took to achieve a goal helps create a healthy attitude and belief that he can improve and succeed with continued effort.
Now let’s look at the Qur’an;
While learning the Qur’an, the careful attention to listening & pronunciation of verses stimulates the hippocampus in the temporal lobe, the memory consolidation center. Where this matters is that this is the part of the brain whose activity levels and capacities have been correlated with a person’s aptitude for learning new information.
The parietal lobes are also quite heavily engaged as one learns the Quran. The left parietal lobe deals with reading, writing, and functions in speech. It’s also the part whose activity is important for math and logic problems. The right parietal lobe handles speech tone, which is related to elocution.
Overall, having parietal lobes that have been well activated translates to better logic and math-solving skills, eloquence in general speech, increased level of emotional intelligence, improved attention, and enhanced capacity for understanding visuospatial relationships. This last one can explain why Muslims were so good at astronomy.
Other brain regions the activity of Quran recitation strongly activate are the frontal lobes and the primary motor cortex. The frontal lobes activity deals with higher order functions, including working memory, memory retrieval, speech production and written-word recognition, etc.
For example, as we read the Qur’an, our brains must quickly decide on the proper pronunciation of the word, which without the diacritical marks means it must be distinguished from other possibilities that include not only wrong words, but also wrong enunciation depending on the specific recitation we’re using. The amazing thing about this is that the brain after practice will do these things without conscious control from us. This trains the area of the brain responsible for inhibition, which is important for social interaction.
It also activates the occipital lobes, which are involved in generating mental imagery. This brain region is also important in visual perception. Becoming active as a result of generating mental imagery indirectly improves visual perception capacities since the area activated is within the same region. We’ve been told that the Qur’an improves our eye sight, this is how.
Reading the Qur’an on a daily basis not only earns you rewards in the akhirah but generally makes you smarter & more conscious even in this dunya. I find this whole concept extremely fascinating.
Indeed, this Qur’an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward.[17:9]
O Allah, Al-Musta’aan, we know that You are the only One whose help is sought. Guide us & ease our paths in seeking knowledge.