Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

When learning is fun – how the brain simulates external rewards to boost memory formation

22.09.2016

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.).


Volunteers had to learn the meaning of a new word. Activity of the reward-memory loop plus the subjective feeling of pleasantness during successful learning predicted later memory benefits.

University of Magdeburg

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: toemme.noesselt@med.ovgu.de

Weitere Informationen:

http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.17441

Katharina Vorwerk | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft
Further information:
http://www.uni-magdeburg.de/

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht World’s Largest Study on Allergic Rhinitis Reveals new Risk Genes
17.07.2018 | Helmholtz Zentrum München - Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Gesundheit und Umwelt

nachricht Plant mothers talk to their embryos via the hormone auxin
17.07.2018 | Institute of Science and Technology Austria

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>