6 February 2019: How does memory guide decisions: implications for psychiatry

Akram Bakkour
Department of Psychology
Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute
Columbia University

Memory is central to adaptive behavior, allowing past experience to guide decisions and actions. Indeed, decisions are often informed by memories. However, the neurobiological mechanisms by which episodic memory guides decisions and the consequences for behavior remain poorly understood. We use a computational framework developed for the study of perceptual decisions and adapt it to better understand the cognitive and neural mechanisms of value-based decision making. In this work, we use computational models to generate predictions that we test using fMRI and behavior in patient populations. This framework was adopted to better understand the basic mechanisms by which memory enters the decision process, whether value is constructed, and how preferences may be manipulated. Several psychiatric disorders are characterized by maladaptive decisions that lead to adverse outcomes. I demonstrate the utility of our framework for psychiatry by characterizing choices about food in patients with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder typified by persistent and stereotypical choices of low-fat, low-calorie foods to the point of starvation. Using computational models to generate predictions that are testable using the tools of cognitive neuroscience offers promise in the search for novel interventions in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.