Humans incorporate trial-to-trial working memory uncertainty into rewarded decisions

Maija Honig, Wei Ji Ma, Daryl Fougnie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Working memory (WM) plays an important role in action planning and decision making; however, both the informational content of memory and how that information is used in decisions remain poorly understood. To investigate this, we used a color WM task in which subjects viewed colored stimuli and reported both an estimate of a stimulus color and a measure of memory uncertainty, obtained through a rewarded decision. Reported memory uncertainty is correlated with memory error, showing that people incorporate their trial-to-trial memory quality into rewarded decisions. Moreover, memory uncertainty can be combined with other sources of information; after inducing expectations (prior beliefs) about stimuli probabilities, we found that estimates became shifted toward expected colors, with the shift increasing with reported uncertainty. The data are best fit by models in which people incorporate their trial-to-trial memory uncertainty with potential rewards and prior beliefs. Our results suggest that WM represents uncertainty information, and that this can be combined with prior beliefs. This highlights the potential complexity of WM representations and shows that rewarded decision can be a powerful tool for examining WM and informing and constraining theoretical, computational, and neurobiological models of memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8391-8397
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number15
StatePublished - Apr 14 2020


  • Metamemory
  • Priors
  • Reward
  • Uncertainty
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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