The gradable power of novelty
As we can experience in our day-to-day life, new phenomena grab our attention, and we can often recall better what struck us with the power of novelty than the things we have experienced a thousand times. This connection has already been confirmed by numerous psychological studies. Yet, if we come to think of it, it is not self-evident what we can consider truly new, that is, not yet known, and when we can say that something is still completely unknown to us. Researchers trying to avoid oversimplification have already attempted to grasp the degree of novelty in various ways until the idea finally gained ground that we should look at novelty as a constantly changing phenomenon. This concept forms the basis of the measuring tool developed by the members of the ELTE Research Group Sleep, Dream and Cognition.
Richárd Reichardt and his fellow researchers were seeking an answer that could be supported by measurement data as to how something that is remembered or not is related to what degree of novelty. The test focused on the effect of novelty on memory among visual stimuli,
creating its own scale of novelties from the complex relationships of colours, shapes, and patterns.
Let’s imagine a 3×3 square grid, where the nine squares can always contain five elements of different colours, triangles, circles, and squares, in a varying arrangement. In the test, it is regarded as a smaller degree of novelty if the shapes change but their location and the arrangement of colours remain constant, compared to when the colours and shapes change, as well. If all the three constituents change, the impact of novelty is even stronger.
During the development of the measuring tool, the researchers actually tested the test itself. They gathered data on the correlation between the gradual increase in the novelty of visual stimuli and the successfulness of memorisation in healthy adults. The tests were in line with the previous expectations:
a greater degree of novelty resulted in better memory performance in subjects.
The procedure published under the name of the Graded Novelty Encoding Task (GNET), therefore, makes the degree of novelty parameterisable and thus opens up new avenues for the quantitative analysis of the processing of novelty in terms of both behavioural science and cognitive neuroscience.
The new development concerning the GNET tool – compared to earlier models that could define only two types of novelty (e.g., complete and relative novelty) – is that it approaches novelty as an ever-changing phenomenon and parameterises it accordingly throughout the test. During the fine-tuning of the test, researchers are seeking answers to several further questions, for example, how to distinguish between difference and novelty as a stimulus, or how to interpret erroneous negative responses to perceived familiar stimuli. The tool has already captivated the imagination of many memory researchers, who see it as an exciting possibility that can be used, for example, in the field of parameterising the novelty factor of various types of stimuli and the data-based analysis of their effect on memorisation.
The full article is available here: Graded novelty encoding task: Novelty gradually improves recognition of visual stimuli under incidental learning conditions.