Neural correlates of learning from induced insight: A case for reward-based episodic encoding

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Abstract

Experiencing insight when solving problems can improve memory formation for both the problem and its solution. The underlying neural processes involved in this kind of learning are, however, thus far insufficiently understood. Here, we conceptualized insight as the sudden understanding of a novel relationship between known stimuli that fits into existing knowledge and is accompanied by a positive emotional response. Hence, insight is thought to comprise associative novelty, schema congruency, and intrinsic reward, all of which are separately known to enhance memory performance. We examined the neural correlates of learning from induced insight with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) using our own version of the compound-remote- associates-task (CRAT) in which each item consists of three clue words and a solution word. (Pseudo-)Solution words were presented after a brief period of problem- solving attempts to induce either sudden comprehension (CRA items) or continued incomprehension (control items) at a specific time point. By comparing processing of the solution words of CRA with control items, we found induced insight to elicit activation of the rostral anterior cingulate cortex/medial prefrontal cortex (rACC/mPFC) and left hippocampus. This pattern of results lends support to the role of schema congruency (rACC/mPFC) and associative novelty (hippocampus) in the processing of induced insight. We propose that (1) the mPFC not only responds to schema- congruent information, but also to the detection of novel schemata, and (2) that the hippocampus responds to a form of associative novelty that is not just a novel constellation of familiar items, but rather comprises a novel meaningful relationship between the items—which was the only difference between our insight and no insight conditions. To investigate episodic long-term memory encoding, we compared CRA items whose solution word was recognized 24 h after encoding to those with forgotten solutions.We found activation in the left striatum and parts of the left amygdala, pointing to a potential role of brain reward circuitry in the encoding of the solution words. We propose that learning from induced insight mainly relies on the amygdala evaluating the internal value (as an affective evaluation) of the suddenly comprehended information, andstriatum-dependent reward-based learning.

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Kizilirmak, J. M., Thuerich, H., Folta-Schoofs, K., Schott, B. H., & Richardson-Klavehn, A. (2016). Neural correlates of learning from induced insight: A case for reward-based episodic encoding. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(NOV). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01693

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