Santoro A, Frankland PW, Richards BA, “Memory Transformation Enhances Reinforcement Learning in Dynamic Environments”, Journal of Neuroscience, 36 (48), 12228-12242

Over the course of systems consolidation, there is a switch from a reliance on detailed episodic memories to generalized schematic memories. This switch is sometimes referred to as “memory transformation.” Here we demonstrate a previously unappreciated benefit of memory transformation, namely, its ability to enhance reinforcement learning in a dynamic environment. We developed a neural network that is trained to find rewards in a foraging task where reward locations are continuously changing. The network can use memories for specific locations (episodic memories) and statistical patterns of locations (schematic memories) to guide its search. We find that switching from an episodic to a schematic strategy over time leads to enhanced performance due to the tendency for the reward location to be highly correlated with itself in the short-term, but regress to a stable distribution in the long-term. We also show that the statistics of the environment determine the optimal utilization of both types of memory. Our work recasts the theoretical question of why memory transformation occurs, shifting the focus from the avoidance of memory interference toward the enhancement of reinforcement learning across multiple timescales.

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