With multiple learning and memory systems at its disposal, the human brain can represent the past in many ways, from extracting regularities across similar experiences (incremental learning) to storing rich, idiosyncratic details of individual events (episodic memory). The unique information carried by these neurologically distinct forms of memory can bias our behavior in different directions, raising crucial questions about how these memory systems interact to guide choice and the factors that cause one to dominate. Here, we devised a new approach to estimate how decisions are independently influenced by episodic memories and incremental learning. Furthermore, we identified a biologically motivated factor that biases the use of different memory types—the detection of novelty versus familiarity. Consistent with computational models of cholinergic memory modulation, we find that choices are more influenced by episodic memories following the recognition of an unrelated familiar image but more influenced by incrementally learned values after the detection of a novel image. Together this work provides a new behavioral tool enabling the disambiguation of key memory behaviors thought to be supported by distinct neural systems while also identifying a theoretically important and broadly applicable manipulation to bias the arbitration between these two sources of memories.

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