Recent theoretical perspectives have suggested that the function of the human hippocampus, like its rodent counterpart, may be best characterized in terms of its information processing capacities. In this study, we use a combination of high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, multivariate pattern analysis, and a simple decision making task, to test specific hypotheses concerning the role of the medial temporal lobe (MTL) in scene processing. We observed that while information that enabled two highly similar scenes to be distinguished was widely distributed throughout the MTL, more distinct scene representations were present in the hippocampus, consistent with its role in performing pattern separation. As well as viewing the two similar scenes, during scanning participants also viewed morphed scenes that spanned a continuum between the original two scenes. We found that patterns of hippocampal activity during morph trials, even when perceptual inputs were held entirely constant (i.e., in 50% morph trials), showed a robust relationship with participants' choices in the decision task. Our findings provide evidence for a specific computational role for the hippocampus in sustaining detailed representations of complex scenes, and shed new light on how the information processing capacities of the hippocampus may influence the decision making process.
Copyright © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.