Volunteers had to learn the meaning of a new word using the context provided by two sentences. Correct learning could only be achieved if both sentences evoked a congruent meaning. Activity of the reward-memory loop (accumbens-midbrain-hippocampus) plus the subjective feeling of pleasantness during successful learning predicted later memory benefits.
Humans can learn effectively, especially when they are externally rewarded (for example, with money or desirable incentives after their actions). Instead of externally-triggered learning (carrot-based learning), self-organised or intrinsically driven learning refers to those learning processes without any objective reward. If you think of it, humans are often involved in these types of rewardless learning activities (think on the amount of time most of use spent solving crosswords, solving interesting problems, learning while playing or even learning new languages, etc.).
An intriguing question is how these self-determined learning activities are triggered, sustained and maintained. In the present research, we showed that this internal-driven learning process utilizes a network of brain regions very similar to the one triggered by external, incentive-driven learning. During self-organised learning the brain also triggers the reward system to broadcast a “reward-pleasure” signal. This reward signal highlights the importance of the ongoing (learning) process, links the reward- with the memory-system and boosts memory formation.
The involvement of the reward system also triggered subjective enjoyment: participants’ pleasantness ratings during learning were highest for those learning items which they correctly remembered even after a week. This study, published in eLife (http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.17441), has been conducted by an international team of scientists from the Universities of Barcelona (Cognition and Brain Plasticity group, http://www.brainvitge.org) and Magdeburg (Biopsychology Group, http://www.ipsy.ovgu.de/en/Departments/Biological+Psychology.html).
“Previous research showed that the brain’s memory structures communicate with reward regions if an external reward is given during learning, for instance with money. But, in our daily life we often learn without being rewarded. In our study we set out to identify the brain regions linked to learning without explicit reward” says senior author Professor Toemme Noesselt (Institute of Biological Psychology, OVGU, Magdeburg). “Surprisingly, we found the same areas involved in external reward processing, were also active during internally driven learning. This suggests that the brain can simulate the occurrence of an external reward.”
The researchers scanned the brains of 36 volunteers using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants read pairs of sentences which contained new words while being scanned. Half of the paired sentences provided a congruent meaning for the new word. The volunteers were asked to acquire the meaning of the new words, on their own, without any external help. The activity of the brain’s reward-memory loop did indeed increase whenever a volunteer learned the meaning of a new word.
“We then tested whether the activity of this loop is linked to longer-lasting memory traces,” explains lead author Dr. Pablo Ripollés (Cognition and Brain Plasticity Unit, Universitat de Barcelona). “Indeed, we found that the activity of the reward-memory loop is highest for words still remembered after one hour. In two follow-up experiments we also showed that the participants’ pleasantness ratings during learning were highest for those new words which they correctly remembered even after a week. In accordance, skin conductance responses, a marker of emotional processing, were also highest for remembered words. All our evidence points at a crucial involvement of intrinsically triggered reward related processes during internally driven learning.”
“External rewards and feedback like grades are common educational strategies. We can only speculate as to how this internal mechanism reacts if confronted with external signals”, adds Co-Senior Author Prof. Antoni Rodriguez, (ICREA, Universitat de Barcelona). “A key question for the future is to identify the circumstances during which internally driven learning is more effective than relying on external feedback and incentives. This will tell us how internally driven learning can be used to improve educational programs – for instance second language acquisition – and rehabilitation programs – for instance, the recovery of verbal skills lost after stroke”.
Media Contact: Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Tömme Noesselt, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Magdeburg, Institute of Psychology, Department Biological Psychology, Tel.: +49 391 67 18477, E-Mail: email@example.com
Katharina Vorwerk | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering