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Why motivation to learn declines with age

https://bigthink.com/mind-brain/motivation-to-learn

bigthink.com

Why motivation to learn declines with age
As people age, they often lose their motivation to learn new things and study new subjects. In this article, learn how MIT researchers did a study in mice to discover how and why the motivation to learn changes over time.

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Motivation to learn

Motivation to learn

As people get older, they often lose their motivation to learn new things. This get-up-and-go attitude is vital for our social well-being and learning.

In order to survive, we need to be able to learn what is good for us, and what is bad for us. But, a person may value a reward so highly that the risk of experiencing a possible cost is ignored. Another may wish to avoid the cost to the exclusion of all rewards. This may result in reward-driven learning in some, and cost-driven learning in others.

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Loss of motivation

Many mental health disorders can skew the ability to evaluate the cost and rewards of an action, such as anxiety and depression.

A depressed person may undervalue potentially rewarding experiences.

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Improving cost-benefit motivation

Neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining cost and reward motivation.

Researchers are working on possible drug treatments that could stimulate this circuit. They suggest that training patients to enhance activity in this circuit through biofeedback could offer another potential way to improve their cost-benefit evaluations.

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Dopamine

Dopamine

Dopamine plays many roles in the brain. It is related to movement, motivation, and reinforcement of behavior.

Dopamine appears to exert significant effects in two regions of the brain...

Tracking dopamine

Dopamine, like other neurotransmitters, helps neurons communicate with each other over short distances. Most of the brain's dopamine is produced in the midbrain by neurons that connect to the striatum.

High dopamine concentrations do not make the neurons more active. However, they do make the neurons remain active for a more extended period of time, suggesting a longer response to the reward. It may have something to do with how dopamine promotes learning, which is one of its main functions.

Long-range effects

Researchers set out to determine if dopamine might affect more distant locations in the brain.

The regions that showed the most significant surges in activity in response to dopamine were the motor cortex and the insular cortex. The findings can help researchers understand the effects of dopamine in the human brain, including its roles in addiction and learning.

Detecting Loneliness

Detecting Loneliness
  • Scientific literature has linked loneliness to depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and drug abuse.
  • Loneliness makes you more likely to fall ill by suppressing healthy immune function....

Loneliness is subjective

It's possible to be completely isolated and feel invigorated.

It is also possible to be surrounded by a crowd or be accompanied by close friends and feel lonely.

Research on loneliness findings

  • Research showed that after social isolation, subjects' brain scans showed more activity in the midbrain when shown pictures of social cues.
  • When subjects were hungry but had not been socially isolated, they showed a similar reaction to food cues, but not social ones. This shows that the drive for social contact and for things like food seems to be represented in a similar way.

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Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics may lose their ability to treat bacterial infections.

Scientists have been warning us about the alarming rise in drug-resistant bacteria, but it can be curbed.

Penicillin

  • Penicillin was the first widely-used antibiotic. It was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, a bacteriologist.
  • He noticed that the staph cells he'd been studying in a petri dish had died, and an unusual mold was growing in it.
  • The mould was purified and tested in 1940, and later mass-produced.
  • By 1943, the US was supplying all the Allied forces with this miracle drug, which gave them an advantage in treating injuries.

Existing antibiotics found in the dirt

  • An agriculture student-turned-microbiologist, Selman Waksman, tested 10,000 soil samples over the years.
  • In 1943, he identified streptomycin, a broad-spectrum antibiotic effective against tuberculosis.
  • Drug companies caught on to it, and commissioned pilots, explorers, and foreign correspondents sent back soil samples as they traveled, collecting dozens of new antibiotics.
  • By 1970, researchers found themselves discovering the same molecules over and over.