Our brains are like sponges when we’re young, and most of us are eager to take in and process new information as it comes. The ability (and desire) to learn new information remains with us in most cases, but some issues may slow that drive down as we reach middle age. One of those issues could be our motivation to tackle new info, which may take a heavy hit upon reaching our 50s. Here's why.
The motivation to explore new information is vital to any animal’s survival, and humans are no exception. We need to accrue as much knowledge and as many skills as possible if we want to be successful in this fast-paced (and often hazardous) world that's always changing.
Normal aging can be the source of some unexpected roadblocks, though. One is related to changes in the way we may approach learning. A study recently published in Cell attempts to explain some of the physical aspects behind this shift.
According to the research, changes in our attitudes toward learning could stem from reduced activity in our striosomes, a type of neuron found in the part of the brain called the basal ganglia. Think of these cells as that little voice in the back of your head that says “do it!” when you’re sitting on the fence debating whether to take on something new. As we age, our striosome activity declines, which can have a measurable impact on our desire to pursue new activities and learn new information.
Science Daily explains that studies on older mice with declining striosomal activity can mirror changes that typically occur in humans around 60 years old. Specifically looking at reward-based learning behaviors, researchers have found a clear connection between lower striosomal activity and reduced motivation levels. What's really exciting though, is that they were also able to manipulate the animals’ desire to learn by chemically altering active striosome numbers.
We might not be able to fight our biology just yet, but we may be able to improve our desire to learn if we take the right approach.
As we age, our values and perceptions can vary significantly from those we held when we were younger; we may find we’re attracted to less broad and more personally fulfilling endeavors, and we might need to adjust our strategies accordingly. Until this research unearths the newest anti-aging strategy, we can combat this decline by integrating our passions into our learning approaches, and we might just find the push we need to make those new challenges more personally rewarding.
We may be able to combat mental decline with a desire to learn but to maintain that motivation, we need to know that it’s okay to focus on our strengths, but it’s also important to remember the value of change, no matter how old we are.
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