There is a little man reclining in your brain

Well, actually there are two little man shaped maps of your sensory and motor nervous systems. One on the left and one on the right.

Sensory homunculus

The one I am interested in is called the sensory homunculus and he looks rather strange. He is shaped according to the sensory information sent to the brain by the various parts of the body. So, for example, he has massive hands and hardly any back – this is because you have more sensory nerves in the tip of one finger than in your entire back.

Shape shifting neuroplasticity

This little man can change shape very quickly. If, for some reason, your body increases the sensory input from one body part (pleasure or painful stimulus will do it) the little man in your brain will change shape accordingly. Have you ever had a bang on the lips? It makes your lip swell and your face feels all out of proportion. But when you look in the mirror, convinced you are going to see some sort of monstrosity, it is usually a disappointment.

The ability to the homunculus to change shape quickly is called neuroplasticity and is the reason  your back may feel swollen when it is hurting a lot. Again, when there is an increase in the sensory signals from your back it will cause the little man in your head to ‘grow’ a back.

This neuroplasticity can go both ways – when we treat the painful area and reduce the frequency and urgency of the sensory information the homunculus will respond by reducing its size.

The amazing thing is that you don’t necessarily need to have increased sensory input from a body part in order to cause neuroplasticity. Context, situation and your beliefs can also effect your homunculus. If you are worried about your back and believe that it is prone to injury then you can give your little brain man a bad back. Conversely if you feel safe and happy about your back you can reduce the size of his back also.

Take control of the little man

My advice? Listen to the little man in your head but understand that he is only ever telling you the truth that you are listening to. There may be an alternative way of looking at it so be happy to seek help, reassurance and advice from experts too. Everything you feel, hear and believe will have an influence over your homunculus.

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