Many of our daily decisions are memory based, that is, the attribute information about the decision alternatives has to be recalled. Behavioral studies suggest that for such decisions we often use simple strategies (heuristics) that rely on controlled and limited information search. It is assumed that these heuristics simplify decision-making by activating long-term memory representations of only those attributes that are necessary for the decision. However, from behavioral studies alone, it is unclear whether using heuristics is indeed associated with limited memory search. The present study tested this assumption by monitoring the activation of specific long-term-memory representations with fMRI while participants made memory-based decisions using the “take-the-best” heuristic. For different decision trials, different numbers and types of information had to be retrieved and processed. The attributes consisted of visual information known to be represented in different parts of the posterior cortex. We found that the amount of information required for a decision was mirrored by a parametric activation of the dorsolateral PFC. Such a parametric pattern was also observed in all posterior areas, suggesting that activation was not limited to those attributes required for a decision. However, the posterior increases were systematically modulated by the relative importance of the information for making a decision. These findings suggest that memory-based decision-making is mediated by the dorsolateral PFC, which selectively controls posterior storage areas. In addition, the systematic modulations of the posterior activations indicate a selective boosting of activation of decision-relevant attributes.

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