A growing body of work is investigating the use of memory during decision processes. Notably, most decision making research takes a ‘non-episodic’ perspective on memory and focuses on the storage of aggregate information about the desirability/value of different choices, which does not address how disparate elements of past experience could rapidly inform decisions in novel situations. In this talk, Raphael Kaplan will discuss how map-like encoding mechanisms may be a widespread phenomenon in the brain and help us generalize from past experience in order to efficiently make a wide variety of informed decisions. He will present functional MRI and neurophysiology work that leverages our experience exploring the physical world in order to probe how we rapidly make a series of novel choices, mentally explore scenes, and use our personal frame of reference to make inferences about new people. Mechanistically, these findings suggest that cognitive map-like neural computations can help the brain extract structure from previous experience to guide future decisions as well as impose structure on the encoding of new experiences.

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