Saturday, July 19, 2008

Knitty Neurons

I knew that learning to knit was quite possibly making me a better person; learning patience and stick-to-itiveness while creating something utilitarian. However, Professor Ruth Grahn has taken it one step further and made a connection between brain function and the physical and mental skills that knitting requires. Because of this, she requires that all of the students in her behavioral neuroscience course at Connecticut College learn to knit.

It was reported in this article on Lion Brand's blog that she had encountered a woman who had suffered a stroke and was told she'd never be able to knit again. Through the woman's persistence, she actually did make a full recovery while her doctor attributed her use of knitting to “rewire her brain” and take back not only her knitting, but all her motor skills.

"She is a bio-psychologist, a champion of student-faculty collaborative research and director of Connecticut College´s Behavioral Neuroscience Program. Associate Professor of Psychology Ruth Grahn is also a popular teacher...

...When we cover the motor system, traditionally the least exciting topic in the course, we relate the function of each motor area of the brain to the act of knitting. For example, the fingers need to convey lots of information about the position of the yarn and needles and the muscles of the fingers need to be capable of very fine, controlled movement. We relate this to how parts of the body are represented in the cortex and how the hands and face take up most of the cortical space devoted to motor and sensory processing, leaving very little brain space for less important body parts. Then we talk about plasticity and how the cortical space allotted to a body part can change with experience. Those students who keep knitting can imagine their motor cortex changing as their skill improves.

Knitting in Behavioral Neuroscience has turned out to be a very useful and fun way to begin the semester." (CC:online Connecticut College Magazine, Spring 2008).

I remember when my dad suffered a severe ruptured brain aneurysm while I was in high school, the doctors recommended that my parents purchase a computer (this was when it was not a fixture in most households) so that he could have daily brain exercise...maybe they could have just plunked down $10 on some needles and yarn-but then my little sister wouldn't have honed her sweet typing skills with Mavis Beacon...and I would have missed out on the repetition of 'a-a-a space s-s-s-s space.'

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