Reward motivation accelerates the onset of neural novelty signals in humans to 85 milliseconds

Nico Bunzeck, Christian F Doeller, Lluis Fuentemilla, Raymond J Dolan, Emrah Duzel


The neural responses that distinguish novel from familiar items in recognition memory tasks are remarkably fast in both humans and nonhuman primates. In humans, the earliest onsets of neural novelty effects emerge at about approximately 150-200 ms after stimulus onset. However, in recognition memory studies with nonhuman primates, novelty effects can arise at as early as 70-80 ms. Here, we address the possibility that this large species difference in onset latencies is caused experimentally by the necessity of using reward reinforcement to motivate the detection of novel or familiar items in nonhuman primates but not in humans. Via magnetoencephalography in humans, we show in two experiments that the onset of neural novelty signals is accelerated from approximately 200 ms to approximately 85 ms if correct recognition memory for either novel or familiar items is rewarded. Importantly, this acceleration is independent of whether the detection of the novel or the familiar scenes is rewarded. Furthermore, this early novelty effect contributed to memory retrieval because neural reward responses, which were contingent upon novelty detection, followed approximately 100 ms later. Thus, under the contextual influence of reward motivation, behaviorally relevant novelty signals emerge much faster than previously held possible in humans.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number15
Pages (from-to)1294-300
Number of pages7
Publication statusPublished - 11.08.2009


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