I am a clinician scientist, working in clinical psychiatry and neuroscience research.
My broad interest is in how mental health factors affect our actions.
Our recent work (manuscript to be posted soon) shows that the pre-supplementary motor area exerts inhibitory control over our voluntary action by dynamically adjusting the thresholds for making a response.
As we grow older, it becomes more difficult to learn new skills. This holds true for skills that are purely “mental”, like learning a new language, but also for motor skills that involve movement, like learning how to ride a bike. Neuroscience research has classically separated these two types of learning into: 1) ‘explicit’ learning, which is considered a conscious and deliberate process of attaining new information, and which relies on a brain structure called the hippocampus. 2) ‘implicit’ learning, which happens automatically without conscious awareness, and which depends on a brain structure called the cerebellum. Research has shown that as we grow older, our explicit learning is not as good as it used to be when we were younger. By contrast, implicit learning remains largely unaffected by our age. However, these observations could not explain why in old age it is similarly difficult to learn both mental and motor skills. A new Cam-CAN study shows that as we get older, motor skill learning shifts to rely more on explicit learning and its brain structure. Changes in the hippocampus, but not in the cerebellum, explain why for many people, this type of learning gets more difficult as they get older. While the reason for this shift is unclear, it might help us design new learning methods for older people that will encourage them to use their intact implicit learning, so that they can easily continue to learn new tricks.
Full details in:
Wolpe N, Ingram JN, Tsvetanov KA, Henson RN, Wolpert DM; Cam-CAN, Rowe JB (2020). Age-related reduction in motor adaptation: brain structural correlates and the role of explicit memory. Neurobiology of Aging. 90:13-23. doi: 10.1016/j. neurobiolaging.2020.02.016.