A predictive account of how novelty influences declarative memory

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2021 Mar;179:107382. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2021.107382. Epub 2021 Jan 18.


A rich body of studies in the human and non-human literature has examined the question how novelty influences memory. For a variety of different stimuli, ranging from simple objects and words to vastly complex scenarios, the literature reports that novelty improves memory in some cases, but impairs memory in other cases. In recent attempts to reconcile these conflicting findings, novelty has been divided into different subtypes, such as relative versus absolute novelty, or stimulus versus contextual novelty. Nevertheless, a single overarching theory of novelty and memory has been difficult to attain, probably due to the complexities in the interactions among stimuli, environmental factors (e.g., spatial and temporal context) and level of prior knowledge (but see Duszkiewicz et al., 2019; Kafkas & Montaldi, 2018b; Schomaker & Meeter, 2015). Here we describe how a predictive coding framework might be able to shed new light on different types of novelty and how they affect declarative memory in humans. More precisely, we consider how prior expectations modulate the influence of novelty on encoding episodes into memory, e.g., in terms of surprise, and how novelty/surprise affect memory for surrounding information. By reviewing a range of behavioural findings and their possible underlying neurobiological mechanisms, we highlight where a predictive coding framework succeeds and where it appears to struggle.

Keywords: Memory; Novelty; PIMMS; Prediction error; Predictive coding; Surprise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anticipation, Psychological*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology*