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Nat Hum Behav. 2019 May 6. doi: 10.1038/s41562-019-0597-3. [Epub ahead of print]

Positive reward prediction errors during decision-making strengthen memory encoding.

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Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.
Department of Neuroscience, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.
Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.
Center for Depression, Anxiety and Stress Research, McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA, USA.
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA.
Robert J. and Nancy D. Carney Institute for Brain Science, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.


Dopamine is thought to provide reward prediction error signals to temporal lobe memory systems, but the role of these signals in episodic memory has not been fully characterized. Here we developed an incidental memory paradigm to (i) estimate the influence of reward prediction errors on the formation of episodic memories, (ii) dissociate this influence from surprise and uncertainty, (iii) characterize the role of temporal correspondence between prediction error and memoranda presentation and (iv) determine the extent to which this influence is dependent on memory consolidation. We found that people encoded incidental memoranda more strongly when they gambled for potential rewards. Moreover, the degree to which gambling strengthened encoding scaled with the reward prediction error experienced when memoranda were presented (and not before or after). This encoding enhancement was detectable within minutes and did not differ substantially after 24 h, indicating that it is not dependent on memory consolidation. These results suggest a computationally and temporally specific role for reward prediction error signalling in memory formation.


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