The hippocampus is thought to be involved in memory formation and consolidation, with computational models proposing the process of pattern separation as a means for encoding overlapping memories. Previous research has used semantically related targets and lures to investigate hippocampal responses to mnemonic interference. Here, we attempted to define the response function of the hippocampus and its inputs during pattern separation by parametrically varying target-lure similarity in a continuous recognition task. We also investigated the effect of task demands (intentional versus incidental encoding) on pattern separation processes. We collected functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data while participants were shown a series of objects. In the intentional paradigm, participants identified objects as "new" (novel stimuli), "old" (exact repetitions), or "rotated" (previously seen objects that were subsequently rotated by varied degrees). In the incidental paradigm, participants were shown the same stimuli but identified objects as "toy" or "not toy". Activation in the hippocampus was best fit with a power function, consistent with predictions made by computational models of pattern separation processes in the hippocampus. The degree of pattern separation was driven by the information most relevant to the task—pattern separation was seen in the left hippocampus when semantic information was more important to the task and seen in the right hippocampus when spatial information was more important. We also present data illustrating that top-down processes modulate activity in the ventral visual processing stream.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Neuroscience



Date Submitted


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fMRI, hippocampus, pattern separation