Stimulus novelty energizes actions in the absence of explicit reward

Published in PLoS One, 2016

Recommended citation: Koster, R., Seow, T. X., Dolan, R. J., & Düzel, E. (2016). Stimulus novelty energizes actions in the absence of explicit reward. PloS one, 11(7).

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Novelty seeking has been tied to impulsive choice and biased value based choice. It has been postulated that novel stimuli should trigger more vigorous approach and exploration. However, it is unclear whether stimulus novelty can enhance simple motor actions in the absence of explicit reward, a necessary condition for energizing approach and exploration in an entirely unfamiliar situation. In this study human subjects were cued to omit or perform actions in form of button presses by novel or familiar images. We found that subjects’ motor actions were faster when cued by a novel compared to a familiar image. This facilitation by novelty was strongest when the delay between cue and action was short, consistent with a link between novelty and impulsive choices. The facilitation of reaction times by novelty was correlated across subjects with trait novelty seeking as measured in the Tri-dimensional Personality Questionnaire. However, this li between high novelty-seeking and action facilitation was driven by trials with a long delay between cue and action. This prolonged time window of energization following novelty could hint at a mechanistic underpinning of enhanced vigour for approach and exploration frequently postulated for novelty seeking humans. In conclusion, we show that stimulus novelty enhances the speed of a cued motor action. We suggest this is likely to reflect an adaptation to changing environments but may also provide a source of maladaptive choice and impulsive behaviour.