How do we use our memories of the past to guide decisions we've never had to make before? Although extensive work describes how the brain learns to repeat rewarded actions, decisions can also be influenced by associations between stimuli or events not directly involving reward - such as when planning routes using a cognitive map or chess moves using predicted countermoves - and these sorts of associations are critical when deciding among novel options. This process is known as model-based decision making. While the learning of environmental relations that might support model-based decisions is well studied, and separately this sort of information has been inferred to impact decisions, there is little evidence concerning the full cycle by which such associations are acquired and drive choices. Of particular interest is whether decisions are directly supported by the same mnemonic systems characterized for relational learning more generally, or instead rely on other, specialized representations. Here, building on our previous work, which isolated dual representations underlying sequential predictive learning, we directly demonstrate that one such representation, encoded by the hippocampal memory system and adjacent cortical structures, supports goal-directed decisions. Using interleaved learning and decision tasks, we monitor predictive learning directly and also trace its influence on decisions for reward. We quantitatively compare the learning processes underlying multiple behavioral and fMRI observables using computational model fits. Across both tasks, a quantitatively consistent learning process explains reaction times, choices, and both expectation- and surprise-related neural activity. The same hippocampal and ventral stream regions engaged in anticipating stimuli during learning are also engaged in proportion to the difficulty of decisions. These results support a role for predictive associations learned by the hippocampal memory system to be recalled during choice formation.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Modeling and Simulation
- Molecular Biology
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Computational Theory and Mathematics