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The secret of youth's boundless enthusiasm for life has been found - it's not simply the joy of a constantly unfolding new world and an apparently infinite wealth of future possibilities: it's all down to three brain circuits.

An MRI-scan study by the National Institute of Mental Health in the US has found that youthful joie de vivre depends on the number of reward circuits at the front of your brain that can become stimulated by dopamine, a key chemical reward messenger.

The study, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, asked 13 sixtysomethings and 20 twentysomethings to play a slot-machine game, and scanned their brains. When the young people won, three reward-centre areas became active in response to a dopamine surge - the striatum, the cingulate and the parietal area: “Whoopee.” When the sixty-somethings hit the jackpot, only one section of the reward system, the parietal area, was activated: “Oh, that's nice.”

The researchers say that older people's brains may be simply less sensitive to important rewards. The lead author, Karen Berman, says: “In addition to enhancing our understanding of changes we experience in ageing, this line of research may one day shed new light on disorders of the dopamine system and reward processing, such as schizophrenia, pathological gambling, drug addiction and Parkinson's disease.”

Source - Times

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