The role of reward and reward uncertainty in episodic memory

Alice Mason, Simon Farrell, Paul Howard-Jones, Casimir J.H. Ludwig

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (SciVal)


Declarative memory has been found to be sensitive to reward-related changes in the environment. The reward signal can be broken down into information regarding the expected value of the reward, reward uncertainty and the prediction error. Research has established that high as opposed to low reward values enhance declarative memory. Research in neuroscience suggests that high uncertainty activates the reward system, which could lead to enhanced learning and memory. Here we present the results of four behavioural experiments that examined the role of reward uncertainty in memory, independently from any other theoretically motivated reward-related effects. Participants completed motivated word learning tasks in which we varied the level of reward uncertainty and magnitude. Rewards were dependent upon memory performance in a delayed recognition test. Overall the results suggest that reward uncertainty does not affect episodic memory. Instead, only reward outcome appears to play a major role in modulating episodic memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-77
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Memory and Language
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (Cross-Disciplinary Interfaces Grant EP/I032622/1).


  • Dopamine
  • Motivated learning
  • Reward outcome
  • Reward uncertainty
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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