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. 2016 Nov;145(11):1420-1426.
doi: 10.1037/xge0000231.

Memory States Influence Value-Based Decisions

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Free PMC article

Memory States Influence Value-Based Decisions

Katherine D Duncan et al. J Exp Psychol Gen. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Using memory to guide decisions allows past experience to improve future outcomes. However, the circumstances that modulate how and when memory influences decisions are not well understood. Here, we report that the use of memories to guide decisions depends on the context in which these decisions are made. We show that decisions made in the context of familiar images are more likely to be influenced by past events than are decisions made in the context of novel images (Experiment 1), that this bias persists even when a temporal gap is introduced between the image presentation and the decision (Experiment 2), and that contextual novelty facilitates value learning whereas familiarity facilitates the retrieval and use of previously learned values (Experiment 3). These effects are consistent with neurobiological and computational models of memory, which propose that familiar images evoke a lingering "retrieval state" that facilitates the recollection of other episodic memories. Together, these experiments highlight the importance of episodic memory for decision-making and provide an example of how computational and neurobiological theories can lead to new insights into how and when different types of memories guide our choices. (PsycINFO Database Record

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Schematic of experimental design. On each trial, a familiar or novel scene was first presented to establish retrieval or encoding ‘modes’, respectively. Then participants chose between two cards for the chance to win money. Each card had an object on one side and, if chosen, flipped over to reveal a value that ranged from 0-$1. On some trials, both cards had new objects; on other trials, one of the cards had a previously chosen object on it. Because cards with the same object always had the same value, if participants remembered the value of the old card on these critical trials, they could increase their earnings (for example, remembering that the feather was worth 75¢ and choosing it). We measured whether familiar vs. novel preceding scenes influenced the degree to which choices were guided by value memories. We hypothesized that value memories would be more likely to influence choices that were made after familiar, as compared to novel, scenes. This is because familiar scenes would put subjects in a ‘retrieval state’, making relevant memories more accessible at the time of choice.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Experiment 1 design and results. (a). Participants chose between two cards, each of which had an object on one side and a value on the other. After a card was selected, it flipped over to reveal the amount of money won. Previously selected cards were re-presented once along with a ‘new’ card. Each decision was made in the context of either a novel or a familiar scene. (b). ‘Familiar’ scenes increased the influence of past experience on choices. The left graph plots how well the value of an ‘old’ card predicted participants’ choices (old vs. new card) for decisions made in the context of ‘familiar’ vs. ‘novel’ scenes. Statistical comparisons were performed by testing the interaction between ‘old’ card value and decision-scene. The right graph plots the model estimates of the likelihood of choosing ‘old’ cards of different values in the context of ‘familiar’ or ‘novel’ scenes. (c). The effect of novel scenes on value learning. The left graph plots how well the value of an ‘old’ card predicted participants’ choices (old vs. new card) for ‘old’ cards that were originally selected in the context of ‘familiar’ vs. ‘novel’ scenes. Statistical comparisons were performed by testing the interaction between ‘old’ card value and learning-scene. The right graph plots model estimates of the likelihood of re-selecting ‘old’ cards of different values that were originally selected in the context of ‘familiar’ vs. ‘novel’ scenes. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the estimate. *p<.05
Figure 3
Figure 3
Experiment 2 design and results. (a). In Experiment 2, preceding scenes were not presented during the decision or feedback phases and ‘familiar’ scenes were only viewed on one earlier trial. (b). Preceding ‘familiar’ scenes increased memory's influence on decision-making. The graphs in the left panel plot how well choices (old vs. new card) were predicted by the value of the ‘old’ card separately for trials that followed ‘familiar’ vs. ‘novel’ scenes. The graphs in the right panel plot the same relationship, but for the subset of trials in which participants had better memory, indexed using repetition priming in their scene indoor/outdoor judgments (see text). (c). Only primed preceding scenes influenced value learning. The graphs in the left panel plot how well choices (old vs. new card) were predicted by ‘old’ card value, separately for trials in which the ‘old’ card was originally selected following a ‘familiar’ vs. ‘novel’ scene. The graphs in the right panel plot the same relationship for the subset of trials in which participants showed repetition priming in their scene indoor/outdoor judgments. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the estimate. *p<.05
Figure 4
Figure 4
Experiment 3 results. The graphs in the left panel plot how well choices (old vs. new card) were predicted by the value of the ‘old’ card separately for choices made in the context of ‘familiar’ vs. ‘novel’ scenes. Preceding ‘familiar’ scenes increased memory's influence on decision-making. The graphs in the right panel plot how well the value of an ‘old’ card predicted participants’ choices (old vs. new card) for ‘old’ cards that were originally selected in the context of ‘familiar’ vs. ‘novel’ scenes. Preceding ‘novel’ scenes increased value learning in the service of later decision making. Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the estimate. *p<.05

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