Expected Value of Reward Predicts Episodic Memory for Incidentally Learnt Reward-Item Associations

Alice Mason, Amy Lorimer, Simon Farrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


In this paper, we draw connections between reward processing and cognition by behaviourally testing the implications of neurobiological theories of reward processing on memory. Single-cell neurophysiology in non-human primates and imaging work in humans suggests that the dopaminergic reward system responds to different components of reward: expected value; outcome or prediction error; and uncertainty of reward (Schultz et al., 2008). The literature on both incidental and motivated learning has focused on understanding how expected value and outcome-linked to increased activity in the reward system-lead to consolidation-related memory enhancements. In the current study, we additionally investigate the impact of reward uncertainty on human memory. The contribution of reward uncertainty-the spread of the reward probability distribution irrespective of the magnitude-has not been previously examined. To examine the effects of uncertainty on memory, a word-learning task was introduced, along with a surprise delayed recognition memory test. Using Bayesian model selection, we found evidence only for expected value as a predictor of memory performance. Our findings suggest that reward uncertainty does not enhance memory for individual items. This supports emerging evidence that an effect of uncertainty on memory is only observed in high compared to low risk environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number217
JournalCollabra: Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Aug 2019

Bibliographical note

Data Accessibility Statement
The data is available on Open Science Framework https://osf.io/xkpfz/.

Funding Information
This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP160101752).


  • Episodic memory
  • Expected value
  • Incidental learning
  • Motivation
  • Reward
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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