Effects of active exploration on novelty-related declarative memory enhancement

Neurobiol Learn Mem. 2021 Mar;179:107403. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2021.107403. Epub 2021 Feb 13.


Exploration of novel environments has reliably been shown to enhance learning in rodents. More recently, these effects have been replicated in humans using virtual reality: Memory is enhanced after exploration of novel compared to familiar virtual environments. However, exploration of a novel versus familiar environment differs in another aspect. Navigating familiar territory can rely more on habits, while navigating new territory requires active decision-making. This difference in choices could contribute to the positive effects of novelty exploration on memory. In this study, we aimed to investigate this possibility. Participants familiarized with a virtual environment (day 1) and were exposed to this environment again (day 2 or 3) and to a novel environment (day 2 or 3). Participants either actively explored the environments or were passively exposed to the exploration behavior of another participant in virtual reality. After exposure to the environment, participants performed a word-learning task and filled out questionnaires regarding virtual presence and the novelty seeking personality trait. Mixed models suggested that memory performance was higher after participants actively explored versus were passively exposed to a novel environment, while these effects were reversed for a familiar environment. Bayesian statistics provided further weak evidence that memory performance was influenced by the interaction between novelty and exposure type. Taken together, our findings suggest that active exploration may contribute to novelty-induced memory benefits, but future studies need to confirm this finding.

Keywords: Action; Agency; Exploration; Long-term memory; Novelty; Novelty seeking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Memory, Long-Term / physiology
  • Personality*
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Verbal Learning / physiology*
  • Virtual Reality*
  • Young Adult