A sojourn into biology, rewards, and place

by Paul Carder on January 2, 2016

by @paulcarder

For the time-poor, here: The memory of the great place where you went, replays (fast) whilst you sleep, and is stimulating the memory of what you learned. So avoid crap places/spaces if you want people to remember stuff…. OK, that’s lost a few people… a poor life this, if full of care, we have no time…

For the benefit of the reader who may wish to follow this little diversion into ‘real science’, I will provide a routemap via Google Scholar (which, in itself, if you have not used it, is an absolute treasure trove). So…in Google Scholar, click on “advanced search” (a drop down menu), and in the first box labelled “with all of the words” type the two words reward and place.

[why? – because I have been researching whether ‘place'(s) etc., corporate space, has been linked to HR compensation and rewards. i.e., does anyone actually think about place as a “benefit” to employees. Then I went off on this tangent… I urge you to do this too… regularly].

So, alongside the text “where my words occur” make sure you toggle to “in the title of the article”. Today, it gave me 75 articles …by the time you try this, there may be more.

Next, alongside the text “without the words” type in the words dopamine, drug, foods and “conditioned place preference” (we’ll come back to that term in a later blog!). And search again…now you may be down to about 33 articles. I have listed just the one paper referenced in this blog, at the footer below.

What comes next is truly fascinating! Real hard science about the link (mostly in poor old rats, but hey…) between place and reward. Not our usual social science, based on opinion, discussion, surveys (which I love, and practice, as I was put off statistics at a young age) – no, the study of brain activity by biologists!

First on the list is Lansink et al (2009) who introduce their paper with this familiar feeling:

Thinking back to an exciting event often includes the scene in which the event took place. Associations between specific places and emotional events are consolidated in memory, but how this is achieved is currently unknown.

Their research took a step further. In discussing brain activity, they demonstrate that “a combination of spatial and emotional aspects of a learning experience is replayed in the hippocampus and the ventral striatum during sleep, which is likely to contribute to the consolidation and strengthening of memory traces”. In layman’s terms, my interpretation, the hippocampus is associated with spacial awareness (or ‘place’), and the ventral striatum is associated with emotion. What Lansink and colleagues discovered was that, during sleep, memories of a place can (and do) stimulate other memories, and consolidate these memories (Memory Consolidation Theory):

  …the hippocampus initiates and orchestrates replay in connected brain areas. In addition, sleep replay occurs at a time scale about ten times faster than during the actual experience, which makes it a mechanism suitable for strengthening synaptic connections associating place with reward

Put simply, say you go to a really great place – a stimulating environment – then you are engaged in some activity in which you learn (perhaps a presentation, or even just a discussion amongst peers… a meeting). Then you go home, later you sleep. Your brain double-taps like Special Ops! It fires the ‘place’ memory, quickly followed by the ’emotion’. And the sleep replay is on ‘fast-forward’ x 10. The memory of the place where you went, is stimulating the memory of what you learned.

How does this make you feel about your next team away-day? Maybe you’ll persuade the boss that it really is worth spending a bit more money (or just being creative, perhaps) in finding a great place to meet up.

….but not that “Training Room” with no windows, in the basement….your hippocampus will not talk to your ventral striatum if you go down there! And you’ll all forget whatever Rupert from Group Legal took half a day out from his golf practice to tell you about.

As a corporate placemaker, you know that place matters. So do clever rats, biologists (and lawyers).



Lansink CS, Goltstein PM, Lankelma JV, McNaughton BL, Pennartz CMA (2009) Hippocampus Leads Ventral Striatum in Replay of Place-Reward Information. PLoS Biol 7(8): e1000173. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000173


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jim Ware January 3, 2016 at 6:23 pm

This is fascinating. Thank for the detailed instructions on how to mirror your research – or do my own on other topics of interest.

Please keep on sharing your insights and learnings – we all benefit when we learn together.

And be on the lookout for Chapter Five in my new book “Making Meetings Matter.” It’s titled “The Place Just Right” and focuses on the impact of place on meetings and other corporate conversations. Not as scientific an analysis as yours, but i think equally important ideas about being strategic when selecting venues for meetings of all kinds.


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