Helen C Barron, Raymond J Dolan & Timothy E J Behrens
Published online: 08 September 2013 | doi:10.1038/nn.3515
Prior experience is critical for decision-making. It enables explicit representation of potential outcomes and provides training to valuation mechanisms. However, we can also make choices in the absence of prior experience by merely imagining the consequences of a new experience. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging repetition suppression in humans, we examined how neuronal representations of novel rewards can be constructed and evaluated. A likely novel experience was constructed by invoking multiple independent memories in hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex. This construction persisted for only a short time period, during which new associations were observed between the memories for component items. Together, these findings suggest that, in the absence of direct experience, coactivation of multiple relevant memories can provide a training signal to the valuation system that allows the consequences of new experiences to be imagined and acted on.