How Do Memories Influence Our Decisions?

We often talk about making decisions based on our "gut instinct", but what actually happens when that process occurs for a decision about something we've never experienced before? One recent study suggests that we're heavily influenced by existing memories, even if we don't recognise the association.

Picture by David McNew/Getty Images

The study, published in Science, measured brain activity for individuals across a series of computer games, some of which included a monetary reward. The conclusion?

Functional brain imaging indicated that receiving the money led to the activation of unconscious memories of the associated images from the first group. This brain activation led the volunteers to go on to make biased choices based on memories they weren't even aware of.

The lesson? Decisions we make based on "gut instinct" may have a more specific basis than we realise. That said, since we're not aware of the associations, we can't be super-confident that the decision is the right one.

Preference by Association: How Memory Mechanisms in the Hippocampus Bias Decisions [Science Express]


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