The simple act of choosing influences declarative memory

Vishnu P. Murty, Sarah DuBrow, Lila Davachi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Individuals value the opportunity to make choices and exert control over their environment. This perceived sense of agency has been shown to have broad influences on cognition, including preference, decision-making, and valuation. However, it is unclear whether perceived control influences memory. Using a combined behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging approach, we investigated whether imbuing individuals with a sense of agency over their learning experience influences novel memory encoding. Participants encoded objects during a task that manipulated the opportunity to choose. Critically, unlike previous work on active learning, there was no relationship between individuals’ choices and the content of memoranda. Despite this, we found that the opportunity to choose resulted in robust, reliable enhancements in declarative memory. Neuroimaging results revealed that anticipatory activation of the striatum, a region associated with decision-making, valuation, and exploration, correlated with choice-induced memory enhancements in behavior. These memory enhancements were further associated with interactions between the striatum and hippocampus. Specifically, anticipatory signals in the striatum when participants are alerted to the fact that they will have to choose one of two memoranda were associated with encoding success effects in the hippocampus on a trial-by-trial basis. The precedence of the striatal signal in these interactions suggests a modulatory relationship of the striatum over the hippocampus. These findings not only demonstrate enhanced declarative memory when individuals have perceived control over their learning but also support a novel mechanism by which these enhancements emerge. Furthermore, they demonstrate a novel context in which mesolimbic and declarative memory systems interact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6255-6264
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 22 2015


  • Agency
  • Choice
  • FMRI
  • Hippocampus
  • Memory
  • Striatum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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