Humans and animals have a remarkable ability to make decisions based on small numbers of experiences. They are also capable of generalizing from long-past experience to novel situations. These two capabilities, hallmarks of goal-directed behavior, are strongly suggestive of an involvement of long-term, episodic memories. This talk will present a mechanism, episodic sampling, through which individual past experiences affect decisions in the present. This mechanism is shown to contribute to choices in standard repeated choice tasks, and it can be manipulated by factors that affect episodic memory, in particular incidental reminders of individual previous choices. Behavioral and neuroimaging data demonstrate that the rich, contextual features of experience at the time of encoding also influence later decisions. Further, this mechanism also affects another type of decision, perceptual inference, suggestive of a much broader active role for episodic memory in both behavior, both normative and aberrant, and with wide-ranging implications for the balance of control between multiple decision systems.
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