Reinstated episodic context guides sampling-based decisions for reward

Nat Neurosci. 2017 Jul;20(7):997-1003. doi: 10.1038/nn.4573. Epub 2017 Jun 5.


How does experience inform decisions? In episodic sampling, decisions are guided by a few episodic memories of past choices. This process can yield choice patterns similar to model-free reinforcement learning; however, samples can vary from trial to trial, causing decisions to vary. Here we show that context retrieved during episodic sampling can cause choice behavior to deviate sharply from the predictions of reinforcement learning. Specifically, we show that, when a given memory is sampled, choices (in the present) are influenced by the properties of other decisions made in the same context as the sampled event. This effect is mediated by fMRI measures of context retrieval on each trial, suggesting a mechanism whereby cues trigger retrieval of context, which then triggers retrieval of other decisions from that context. This result establishes a new avenue by which experience can guide choice and, as such, has broad implications for the study of decisions.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Parahippocampal Gyrus / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult