Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Memory boost: A novelty-exposure intervention to counteract memory decline.

This project aims to identify which aspects of exploring a novel environment produce beneficial effects on memory. The effects of novelty will be investigated across the lifespan, including children, adolescents and older adults.

Judith Schomaker
LUF Elise Mathilde Fonds


When visiting a new place, one must navigate through unknown territory, and remember landmarks to find a way back. Especially when being in a new environment it is crucial for survival to quickly learn about where to expect danger, and where to find rewards. Animal studies have reliably shown that exploring a new environment enhances plasticity by lowering the threshold for learning in the hippocampus, to promote such learning (Davis, 2004; Li, Cullen, Anwyl, & Rowan, 2003). Weak memory traces are more likely to be consolidated by exposure to novelty, and these effects can linger for several tens of minutes. Surprisingly, the beneficial effects of spatial novelty on learning have only been scarcely investigated in humans, due to differing research traditions. In my research, I have used virtually reality (VR) to bridge this gap (Schomaker & Meeter, 2015; Schomaker, van Bronkhorst, & Meeter, 2014). This project aims to combine VR and neuroscientific methods to identify the neurobiological basis of the effects of spatial novelty on memory.

Scientific relevance:

Most studies investigating the effects of novelty on learning in humans used pictures rather than real new environments (Fenker et al., 2008; Wittmann, Bunzeck, Dolan, & Düzel, 2007). It thus remains uncertain whether the memory enhancements elicited by stimulus novelty rely on the same mechanisms as the effects of spatial novelty in animals. In one previous study I was able to show that exploration of spatial novelty can promote learning in humans as well (Schomaker et al., 2014). Notwithstanding, the exact factors resulting in novelty-induced memory enhancements and the neurobiological mechanisms underlying them are not yet well understood.

Aims for current research:

This project aims to combine VR and neuroscientific methods to identify the neurobiological basis of the effects of spatial novelty on memory across the lifespan. Insights derived from this project will be used to develop efficient personalised novelty-exposure interventions that can promote learning and memory in clinical and aging populations suffering from memory problems. Using innovative methodology, including EEG, neuroimaging, pharmacological interventions and virtual reality, findings are integrated to fine-tune and optimize the memory boosting effects of a novelty-exposure intervention for individual users.


Davis, C. D. (2004). Novel Environments Enhance the Induction and Maintenance of Long-Term Potentiation in the Dentate Gyrus. Journal of Neuroscience, 24(29), 6497–6506. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4970-03.2004

Fenker, D. B., Frey, J. U., Schuetze, H., Heipertz, D., Heinze, H. J., & Duzel, E. (2008). Novel scenes improve recollection and recall of words. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(7), 1250–1265. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2008.20086

Leyton, M., Boileau, I., Benkelfat, C., Diksic, M., Baker, G., & Dagher, A. (2002). Amphetamine-induced increases in extracellular dopamine, drug wanting, and novelty seeking: A PET/[11C]raclopride study in healthy men. Neuropsychopharmacology, 27(6), 1027–1035. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0893-133X(02)00366-4

Li, S., Cullen, W. K., Anwyl, R., & Rowan, M. J. (2003). Dopamine-dependent facilitation of LTP induction in hippocampal CA1 by exposure to spatial novelty. Nature Neuroscience, 6(5), 526–531. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1049

Schomaker, J., & Meeter, M. (2015). Short- and long-lasting consequences of novelty, deviance and surprise on brain and cognition. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 55, 268–279. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.05.002

Schomaker, J., van Bronkhorst, M. L. V., & Meeter, M. (2014). Exploring a novel environment improves motivation and promotes recall of words. Frontiers in Psychology, 5. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00918

Wittmann, B. C., Bunzeck, N., Dolan, R. J., & Düzel, E. (2007). Anticipation of novelty recruits reward system and hippocampus while promoting recollection. NeuroImage, 38(1), 194–202. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.06.038

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