Reminders of past choices bias decisions for reward in humans

Nat Commun. 2017 Jun 27;8:15958. doi: 10.1038/ncomms15958.


We provide evidence that decisions are made by consulting memories for individual past experiences, and that this process can be biased in favour of past choices using incidental reminders. First, in a standard rewarded choice task, we show that a model that estimates value at decision-time using individual samples of past outcomes fits choices and decision-related neural activity better than a canonical incremental learning model. In a second experiment, we bias this sampling process by incidentally reminding participants of individual past decisions. The next decision after a reminder shows a strong influence of the action taken and value received on the reminded trial. These results provide new empirical support for a decision architecture that relies on samples of individual past choice episodes rather than incrementally averaged rewards in evaluating options and has suggestive implications for the underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult