Structural Cognitive Modifiability

(The following is taken from Feuerstein, Feuerstein, Falik, and Rand (2006), Creating and Enhancing Cognitive Modifiability:  The Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment Program, ICELP Publications)

The defining characteristic of the intervention approach represented by Feuerstein Instrumental Enrichment is the concept of "cognitive modifiability."  The essential feature of this approach is that it is directed not merely at the remediation of specific behaviors and skills but at changes of a structural nature that alter the course and direction of cognitive development.  These are different from the normal maturational changes and isolated changes as a result of exposure to a given set of circumstances, such as the learning of a particular arithmetical operation or a foreign language.  Structural changes refer not to isolated events but to the organism's manner of interacting with, i.e., acting on and responding to, sources of information.  Thus, a structural change, once set in motion, will determine the future course of an individual's development.  (page 16) 

The concept of modifiability, in the context of Structural Cognitive Modifiability theory means that the changes that occur are not a fragmented, episodic consequence of exposure to experiences, but rather a type of change that affects the basic structure of behavior.  (page 24)

Evidence of the capacity for modifiability is now clearly available, and the long held belief that adverse early experience produces permanent and irreversible damage has been unequivocally challenged.   (page 17)

There is no doubt today that the brain shows plasticity and flexibility, and that new pathways, new synapses, and new or differentially activated neurochemical conductive agents can be formed.  This revolution in brain science has major implications for therapy, education, rehabilitation, and by extension the concept of the  human being as a modifiable entity. 

The Feuerstein approach to human modifiability is formulated as more than a postulate:  it is a credo or belief system derived from observation experimental work and from the growing amount of clinical and empirical data available.  This credo does  not mean that there is not a scientific or theoretical basis for [their] position, but [they] consider belief in human modifiability as the sine qua non for an intervention process to be effective in producing desired changes. (page 23)

How does an episodic grasp of reality, which many individuals with limited or inadequate cognitive functions appear to manifest, affect the brain, and how does the brain function in such a condition?  Imagine sitting in front of an ongoing stimulus array where there is no relationship between one picture and another.  The learner cannot and is not asked to find a relationship between one stimulus and another.  All stimuli are, by their nature, essentially episodic. What makes them more than just isolated experiences is the link the individual brings to them by conceptualizing, grouping, ordering, consolidating, etc.  The lack of such cognitive processing of stimuli leads to the condition of episodicity.  The stimuli impose on the individual an episodic grasp of reality.  The individual tries hard to find a connection, but cannot, and at a certain point gives up.  How does this affect the brain?  How are the brain structures of people who are exposed to a series of events that cannot be related to one another affected by such an experience?  What are the brain effects of different conditions of stimulus presentation, response demands, acquired strategies for information processing?  Alternatively, imagine a person who does not hear well.  In a situation where the auditory stimuli are very important but inadequate as to amplitude, what will the effect be on thinking and on the consequent development or maintenance of cortical structures?  (page 24)

It is the contention of the Feuerstein Institute (formerly the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP) that the Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) as it has been described and applied in both clinical and experimental contexts is the best candidate to produce modifiability in the human organism.  Indeed, work which is ongoing at ICELP in Jerusalem, Israel, and at the Feuerstein Institute for the Cognitive Rehabilitation of the Severely Brain Injured has given much evidence that MLE produces changes that are  not obtained by those who have applied the conventional methods of teaching and training.  The theory and concept of modifiability is thus not only the basis of a belief system, but provides us with the basis for a scientifically founded approach.  Feuerstein's great hope is that the important role  played by Mediated learning Experience will be subject to research using the great variety of new scientific methodologies available, particularly the non-invasive types of assessment and observation of "real-time" functioning of the brain.  The Feuerstein Institute hopes to find the ways in which this basic research can be materialized.