Unexplored territory: Beneficial effects of novelty on memory

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2019 May;161:46-50. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2019.03.005. Epub 2019 Mar 9.


Exploring novel environments enhances learning in animals. Due to differing traditions, research into the effects of spatial novelty on learning in humans is scarce. Recent developments of affordable and fMRI-compatible virtual reality (VR) and mobile EEG systems can help bridge the gap between the two literatures. One promising study showed that spatial novelty also promotes learning in humans. It still remains largely unknown, however, which aspect of novelty underlies the beneficial effect on memory, as novelty, expectations, and volition are often confounded in animal studies. In humans, these factors can be experimentally manipulated, but such studies are currently lacking. Future studies in humans could combine pharmacological interventions, neuroimaging and VR or use mobile EEG to help elucidate whether the plasticity enhancing mechanisms observed in animals, also exist in humans. When the aspects of exploring a novel environment underlying beneficial memory effects have been identified, effective novelty-exposure interventions could be designed to improve learning and counteract age-related memory decline.

Keywords: Exploration; Learning; Memory; Mobile EEG; Spatial novelty; VR.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Monitoring, Ambulatory*
  • Virtual Reality*