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Neuropsychologia. 2006;44(8):1315-24. Epub 2006 Mar 2.

Decision-making in amnesia: do advantageous decisions require conscious knowledge of previous behavioural choices?

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Department of Neurology, Division of Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, University Hospital, Bern, Switzerland.


Previous work has reported that in the Iowa gambling task (IGT) advantageous decisions may be taken before the advantageous strategy is known [Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Tranel, D., & Damasio, A. R. (1997). Deciding advantageously before knowing the advantageous strategy. Science, 275, 1293-1295]. In order to test whether explicit memory is essential for the acquisition of a behavioural preference for advantageous choices, we measured behavioural performance and skin conductance responses (SCRs) in five patients with dense amnesia following damage to the basal forebrain and orbitofrontal cortex, six amnesic patients with damage to the medial temporal lobe or the diencephalon, and eight control subjects performing the IGT. Across 100 trials healthy participants acquired a preference for advantageous choices and generated large SCRs to high levels of punishment. In addition, their anticipatory SCRs to disadvantageous choices were larger than to advantageous choices. However, this dissociation occurred much later than the behavioural preference for advantageous alternatives. In contrast, though exhibiting discriminatory autonomic SCRs to different levels of punishment, 9 of 11 amnesic patients performed at chance and did not show differential anticipatory SCRs to advantageous and disadvantageous choices. Further, the magnitude of anticipatory SCRs did not correlate with behavioural performance. These results suggest that the acquisition of a behavioural preference--be it for advantageous or disadvantageous choices--depends on the memory of previous reinforcements encountered in the task, a capacity requiring intact explicit memory.

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