Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Novelty aids learning

03.08.2006
Exposure to new experiences improves memory, according to research by UCL (University College London) psychologists and medical doctors that could hold major implications for the treatment of memory problems. The study, published in ‘Neuron’ on 3 August, concludes that introducing completely new facts when learning, significantly improves memory performance.

Researchers have long suspected that the human brain is particularly attracted to new information and that this might be important for learning. They are now a step closer to understanding why.

A region in the midbrain (substantia nigra/ventral tegmental), which is responsible for regulating our motivation and reward-processing, responds better to novelty than to the familiar. This system also regulates levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, and could aid learning. This link between memory, novelty, motivation and reward could help patients with memory problems.

Dr Emrah Düzel, UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said: “We hope that these findings will have an impact on behavioural treatments for patients with poor memory. Current practice by behavioural psychologists aims to improve memory through repeatedly exposing a person to information – just as we do when we revise for an exam. This study shows that revising is more effective if you mix new facts in with the old. You actually learn better, even though your brain is also tied up with new information.

“It is a well-known fact amongst scientists that the midbrain region regulates our levels of motivation and our ability to predict rewards by releasing dopamine in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain. We have now shown that novelty activates this brain area. We believe that experiencing novelty might, in itself, have an impact on our dopamine levels. Our next project will be to test the role of dopamine in learning. These findings could have implications for drug development.”

Subjects took part in a series of tests. The first experiment assessed whether the brain prefers novel stimuli over familiar stimuli even when the familiar images are made significant because they are either rare or depict emotionally negative content. Subjects were shown images of indoor and outdoor scenes and faces, while their brain activity was analysed using an fMRI scanner. Some images rarely popped up and some were emotionally negative, such as an angry face or a car accident. Even the rare and emotional images did not activate the midbrain. It responded only to new images.

The second experiment, using fMRI, made some of the images more or less familiar to test how this relativity affected brain activity. It did not – only completely new images produced activity in the midbrain area.

Dr Düzel said: “We thought that less familiar information would stand out as being significant when mixed with well-learnt, very familiar information and so activate the midbrain region just as strongly as absolutely new information. That was not the case. Only completely new things cause strong activity in the midbrain area.”

Separate behavioural experiments were also conducted without the use of a scanner to test the subjects’ memory. Their memory of the novel, familiar and very familiar images they had studied was tested after 20 minutes and then a day later. Subjects performed best in these tests when new information was combined with familiar information during learning. After a 20 minute delay, subjects’ memory for slightly familiar information was boosted by 19 per cent if it had been mixed with new facts during learning sessions.

Dr Düzel said: “When we see something new, we see it has a potential for rewarding us in some way. This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards. The brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. For this reason, only completely new objects activate the midbrain area and increase our levels of dopamine.”

Dominique Fourniol | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ucl.ac.uk

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

Im Focus: Coping with errors in the quantum age

Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly

The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Epoxy compound gets a graphene bump

14.11.2018 | Materials Sciences

Microgel powder fights infection and helps wounds heal

14.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

How algae and carbon fibers could sustainably reduce the athmospheric carbon dioxide concentration

14.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>