January 2016, Vol. 28, No. 1, Pages 69-83
Neural Signatures of Controlled and Automatic Retrieval Processes in Memory-based Decision-making
Decision-making often requires retrieval from memory. Drawing on the neural ACT-R theory [Anderson, J. R., Fincham, J. M., Qin, Y., & Stocco, A. A central circuit of the mind. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 12, 136–143, 2008] and other neural models of memory, we delineated the neural signatures of two fundamental retrieval aspects during decision-making: automatic and controlled activation of memory representations. To disentangle these processes, we combined a paradigm developed to examine neural correlates of selective and sequential memory retrieval in decision-making with a manipulation of associative fan (i.e., the decision options were associated with one, two, or three attributes). The results show that both the automatic activation of all attributes associated with a decision option and the controlled sequential retrieval of specific attributes can be traced in material-specific brain areas. Moreover, the two facets of memory retrieval were associated with distinct activation patterns within the frontoparietal network: The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was found to reflect increasing retrieval effort during both automatic and controlled activation of attributes. In contrast, the superior parietal cortex only responded to controlled retrieval, arguably reflecting the sequential updating of attribute information in working memory. This dissociation in activation pattern is consistent with ACT-R and constitutes an important step toward a neural model of the retrieval dynamics involved in memory-based decision-making.