Making decisions: memories may help

Memories can serve as tools to help people make better decisions, new research has suggested. Published in the journal Neuron, the study revealed the process of memory-binding - which sees new information related with past experiences - allows individuals to better understand new concepts.

Investigators from the University of Texas at Austin noted the findings could prove beneficial with regard to the treatment of dementia and other neurological diseases, while also bolstering teaching methods.

Alison Preston, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Neurobiology at the university noted: "Memories are not just for reflecting on the past, they help us make the best decisions for the future."

Ms Preston - who is also a Research Affiliate in the Center for Learning and Memory at the university's College of Natural Sciences - went on to note the findings show a clear link between a person's derived memories and his or her ability to make novel inferences.

Beverley Stone, a member of the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology, commented: "I find it very convincing because it seems to support Piaget’s concept of Schemas. In Piaget's view, a schema includes both a category of knowledge (a memory) and the process of obtaining that knowledge.

"As experiences happen, new information is used to modify, add to or change previously existing schemas.

"So, a child may have a schema about a cat. If the child's only experience has been with large, fluffy cats, he or she might believe that all cats are large and fluffy. If the child later sees a very small smooth cat, the child will take in this new information, modifying the previously existing schema to include this new information.

"This process of taking in new information into our previously existing schema's is known as assimilation and is somewhat subjective, because we tend to modify experience or information to fit in with our pre-existing beliefs.

"This in my experience is what happens with people with dementia. Another part of adaptation involves altering our existing schemas in light of new information or experiences, a process known as accommodation.

"New schemas may also be developed during this process. I'm wondering if what the study found about people with dementia using memories to make decisions is perhaps linked to their use of these two processes."