Memory states influence value-based decisions

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


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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Association Learning
  • Attention
  • Choice Behavior
  • Computer Simulation
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Motivation*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Recognition, Psychology*
  • Reward
  • Young Adult