To update or to create? The influence of novelty and prior knowledge on memory networks

Melanie J. Sekeres*, Judith Schomaker, Lynn Nadel, Dorothy Tse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
6 Downloads (Pure)


Schemas are foundational mental structures shaped by experience. They influence behaviour, guide the encoding of new memories and are shaped by associated information. The adaptability of memory schemas facilitates the integration of new information that aligns with existing knowledge structures. First, we discuss how novel information consistent with an existing schema can be swiftly assimilated when presented. This cognitive updating is facilitated by the interaction between the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. Second, when novel information is inconsistent with the schema, it likely engages the hippocampus to encode the information as part of an episodic memory trace. Third, novelty may enhance hippocampal dopamine through either the locus coeruleus or ventral tegmental area pathways, with the pathway involved potentially depending on the type of novelty encountered. We propose a gradient theory of schema and novelty to elucidate the neural processes by which schema updating or novel memory traces are formed. It is likely that experiences vary along a familiarity–novelty continuum, and the degree to which new experiences are increasingly novel will guide whether memory for a new experience either integrates into an existing schema or prompts the creation of a new cognitive framework. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Long-term potentiation: 50 years on’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1906
Early online date10 Jun 2024
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2024


  • hippocampus
  • schemas
  • memory network
  • novelty
  • medial prefrontal cortex


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