Studies using functional MRI scanning have shown that a region at the base of the brain known as the midbrain regulates novelty seeking.
Subregions of the midbrain — called the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area — have close links to other brain regions essential for memory and learning: the hippocampus and the amygdala, which reside beneath the temples.
When people are exposed to images depicting brand-new experiences, the midbrain becomes active. But when they are exposed to images that depict only partially new experiences, the level of activation is much lower.
In fact, only completely new experiences will lead to significant activation of this novelty center in the brain.
In animal studies, novel experiences lead to the creation of new neural connections in brain cells in the hippocampus memory center.
This process, called “neural plasticity” occurs during the course of the novel experience, as well as for 15 to 30 minutes afterward.
In human experiments, the introduction of novelty appears to improve memory retention. During the learning process, new information becomes more memorable when it’s combined with familiar information.
Those results suggest that learning can be enhanced when people review study material in new settings.
For instance, simply changing the temperature or lighting in a room could lead to better retention of information.
Another strategy that might be beneficial would be to study immediately after a novel stimulation. Students might consider studying for their exams after meeting a new friend for the first time or viewing a recently released movie.
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