When faced with a choice, the brain retrieves specific traces of memories, rather than a generalized overview of past experiences, from its mental Rolodex, according to new brain-imaging research from The University of Texas at Austin.
Led by Michael Mack, a postdoctoral researcher in the departments of psychology and neuroscience, the study is the first to combine computer simulations with brain-imaging data to compare two different types of decision-making models.
In one model — exemplar — a decision is framed around concrete traces of memories, while in the other model — prototype — the decision is based on a generalized overview of all memories lumped into a specific category.
Whether one model drives decisions more than the other has remained a matter of debate among scientists for more than three decades. But according to the findings, the exemplar model is more consistent with decision-making behavior.
The study was published this month in Current Biology. The authors include Alison Preston, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Center for Learning and Memory; and Bradley Love, a professor at University College London.
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