Novelty Creates Stronger Memories

How well you learn new information might depend in part on the type of environment you’re in.

Fascinating research from the Duncan Lab at University of Toronto suggests that novelty as a strategy for learning could work as a more reliable and faster way to learn.

Think of the “novelty” learning concept as a more workaday version of flashbulb memories, which constitute vivid, complex memories, typically around emotionally charged events.

A Switch Between Novelty and Familiarity

The University of Toronto researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of human subjects to identify how the brain triggers memory states.

The MRI scans looked at the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s involved in the processes of both recording new memories and retrieving existing memories.

Novelty detection by the hippocampus primes the brain to learn distinctly new information, and not be distracted by recall of existing memories.

In contrast, recent exposure to a familiar setting helps the hippocampus retrieve existing memories unrelated to new information.

Memory Enhancement Strategies?

This research points to some interesting ideas for enhancing learning strategies – being able to reliably trigger a “state of novelty” in the brain when learning new material could speed the learning curve.

Also, the research findings could offer new methods for rehabilitation and recovery from stroke, concussions, and other brain injuries.

Want to test your short term memory? Try this free visual memory test; a memory performance score is provided after the test.