Theses Doctoral

The Role of Memory in Value-Based Decisions

Biderman, Natalie

Our decisions reflect who we are and shape who we become. The field of decision-making and learning has revealed how past outcomes guide our future choices by updating value representations. However, we often make choices among options we never experienced before, and therefore their value is not immediately accessible. How do we navigate these choices? This dissertation posits that such decisions rely on memory mechanisms that facilitate generalization and inferential reasoning. Through a combination of behavioral experiments, computational modeling and neuroimaging measures, I explore the diverse ways in which memory mechanisms influence value-based decisions between options for which value is unknown.

In Chapter One, I investigate how individuals assign value to unchosen alternatives and propose that memory creates an associative link between choice options, with consequences for later updating of value. Through a series of five experiments, I demonstrate an inverse relationship between the valuation of unchosen options and the direct learning about chosen options, and show that this inverse inference of value is related to memory of the decision itself.

In Chapter Two, I manipulate the associative link between choice options using a well-established memory manipulation technique and observe a reduction in the inverse inference of unchosen options. This provides further evidence for the causal role of associative memory in the inferential effect. Additionally, I introduce a novel policy-gradient model incorporating memory components that offers the best explanation for observed behaviors.

Lastly, in Chapter Three, I present behavioral and neuroimaging evidence supporting the influence of conceptual knowledge in value-based decisions involving entirely new choice options. I show that people use existing category knowledge to group similar items together, enabling value extraction at a category level and generalization to novel items. Overall, this dissertation underscores the fundamental role of memory in shaping the construction and use of value to guide choice. It emphasizes the adaptive and flexible nature of memory, showing how it combines past experiences to guide future actions.


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2024-12-20.

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Shohamy, Daphna
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 26, 2024