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Reinstated episodic context guides sampling-based decisions for reward.

By Aaron M. Bornstein, Kenneth A. Norman

Posted 04 Dec 2015
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/033662 (published DOI: 10.1038/nn.4573)

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 (RL); 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 RL. 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.

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