Brain Plasticity: A Clear Example


“It’s just like riding a bike”

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It goes without debate that some of the things the human brain is capable of are incredible. From the simplest actions in anyone’s life such as remembering how to tie a shoe, to more complicated tasks like calculating budgets, the possibilities of our brains are unlimited.

However the number one use of our brain is synthesizing information. Once that information is known and our mental pathways become accustomed to the world around us, a change in the physical world can throw our brains into a whirl! Therefore making it almost impossible to adjust without a boatload of practice!

Since we were children we have all heard the phrase, “It’s just like riding a bike”, meaning whatever the task may be is really easy and you can’t forget how to do it. However a study done by Destin Sandlin from the YouTube page Smarter Every Day explains to us why that is not the case.

Destin learned how to ride a bike as a child, like most of us did. However, twenty years later when he was at work, a co-worker built a bike with one simple modification. When turning the handle to the left, the wheel turned to the right and when turned to the handle right, the wheel turned left. When challenged to ride this bike, Destin was excited to show how fast he could pick up the small change.

However that wasn’t the case! He could barely make it a couple of feet before falling over every time that he tried! That was when he had a revelation; he had the knowledge of how to operate the bike, but not the understanding. Therefore knowledge does not equal understanding!

The algorithm of riding a bike in your brain is actually pretty complicated; there are a bunch of different parts to riding a bike that your brain is smart enough to handle. However when you change this complicated algorithm that you learned as a child, your brain gets confused. Sometimes when you have a rigid understanding in your head, you cannot change it, no matter how badly you want to. After eight months of practice, he mastered it. He said something in his mind “just clicked! “

But finally the moment of truth, could he ride a normal bike again. He couldn’t! He set out to prove that he could free his brain from the cognitive bias of riding a bike, only to re-designate that bias when he could not ride a normal bike again! After about twenty minutes of practice, something in his mind clicked, just like before when he mastered the redesigned bike. Something unexplainable to most, since he is the only person to have ever “un-learned” how to ride a bike.

But what does this have to do with Seniors Helping Seniors? The final thing that Destin learned from his experiment is that we must be careful how we look at things, because we look at this world with a bias whether we know it or not. We see things and expect to know what the use is, or what will come out of it based on all of our previous knowledge. And for seniors, with time comes wisdom and knowledge! As a caregiver or a senior in need of assistance, one must expect the unexpected. Keep and open mind and handle situations as they come. Do not completely ignore your previous knowledge, but do not rely only on what you already know.

You can watch the full video about riding the bike at


laurenThis article was contributed by Lauren Szkolnicki, our summer marketing intern here at Seniors Helping Seniors.  Lauren will be a junior in the fall at Kutztown University, where she is majoring in Communications with minors in Public Relations and Professional Writing.  You can see more of her blogs on this site over the next couple of months!