New Study on Self-Motivation

Self-motivation is key to healthy aging; we need motivation to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly and engage our brains by learning something new. A recent study shows that there may be ways we can train our brains to improve our self-motivation.

Scientists know that neurons that are essential to motivation are located in an area of the brain known as the ventral tegmental area (VTA). This area is located deep in the middle of the brain and is involved in the reward and pleasure circuits. In a recent study published in the journal Neuron, scientists from Duke University asked people to activate their VTA by focusing on feelings of motivation.

For the study, 73 participants were asked to go into an fMRI machine which scans the brain and detects which areas are most active. Participants were then asked to generate feelings of motivation using their personal strategies during 20-second intervals. The participants were unable to simply activate this area of the brain on command.

The researchers then used neurofeedback, a training method where they show a meter displaying the activity in a specific brain region – in this case, the VTA – in real time. Now that participants were able to see the meter move as an indicator of brain activation, they quickly learned which self-motivation strategies worked while they laid in the fMRI.

The research team saw great success in participants who used the neurofeedback training. Participants thought about pep talks, high-fiving a room full of people and other motivational scenarios to get the meter to move. Although exhilarating, some say it was exhausting to focus all their energy on one intense emotional experience.

For participants that underwent the neurofeedback training, they were able to activate their VTAs after removing the meter by thinking of the same situations they had before. While the study does not test whether neurofeedback can change long-term behavior after the fMRI sessions, the team hopes that this research may someday be used as a clinical tool to help train people to become more self-motivated. And because of VTA’s role in the reward circuits and dopamine production, the team sees potential for the neurofeedback training to help those with ADHD or those recovering from drug addictions.

In the meantime, find ways to motivate yourself so that you can make choices to stay active and healthy.


Singing Proves Beneficial in Early Stages of Dementia

Many experience that a familiar tune can jog an old memory, which is why music is often used as a type of therapy for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. A recent study by the University of Helsinki in Finland looked more in-depth at the benefits of music and found that singing – as opposed to simply listening to music – can boost the brain function of individuals in the early stages of dementia.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, split 89 people with mild to moderate dementia and their caregivers into three separate groups: one group underwent a music intervention program involving singing, another group underwent an intervention involving listening to familiar songs, and the last group received only standard care with their caregiver and no music intervention. All three of the programs ran for ten weeks. To see who benefited the most from each type of intervention, the researchers evaluated the cause of dementia, the impact of the dementia’s severity, the individual’s age, care situation and previous musical hobbies.

They found that singing was the most beneficial for working memory, which is used to retain new information, executive function, which includes reasoning and judgment, and orientation. They also found that it worked best for individuals with mild dementia who were eighty years old or younger. Listening to familiar songs was only associated with cognitive benefits in individuals with advanced dementia, while both singing and listening to music together were the most effective at alleviating depression in participants with mild dementia.

Interestingly, the participants’ previous musical hobbies had no effect on how well the music intervention programs worked, so people from a variety of musical backgrounds could benefit from the power of music, making it widely applicable. The research team hopes that these results will support the notion that musical activities can be easily used in Alzheimer’s and dementia care as well as memory care facilities. Singing has proven to be a very engaging way for individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia to maintain their memory and other important cognitive functions.

Along with exercise, a balanced diet, and social activities, singing can be a fun way to boost your mood and strengthen your memory. Whether you are in the shower, in the car or at home, sing your favorite songs — involve kids or grandkids and make it an event! We recommend karaoke, which is a great way to exercise your vocal chords and your brain while having fun. Happy singing!