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Here’s Why You Can’t Teach Some Old People New Tricks

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Why can’t some older people figure out how to program their VCRs, connect with Zoom calls, or even engage in everyday activities? Blame their aging brains.

In a study of mice, MIT neuroscientists have now identified a brain circuit that is critical for maintaining this kind of motivation.

This circuit is particularly important for learning to make decisions that require evaluating the cost and reward that come with a particular action. The researchers showed that they could boost older mice’s motivation to engage in this type of learning by reactivating this circuit, and they could also decrease motivation by suppressing the circuit.

“As we age, it’s harder to have a get-up-and-go attitude toward things,” says MIT professor Ann Graybiel, a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “This get-up-and-go, or engagement, is important for our social well-being and for learning — it’s tough to learn if you aren’t attending and engaged.”

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