Decoding information in the human hippocampus: a user's guide

Neuropsychologia. 2012 Nov;50(13):3107-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2012.07.007. Epub 2012 Jul 20.


Multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA), or 'decoding', of fMRI activity has gained popularity in the neuroimaging community in recent years. MVPA differs from standard fMRI analyses by focusing on whether information relating to specific stimuli is encoded in patterns of activity across multiple voxels. If a stimulus can be predicted, or decoded, solely from the pattern of fMRI activity, it must mean there is information about that stimulus represented in the brain region where the pattern across voxels was identified. This ability to examine the representation of information relating to specific stimuli (e.g., memories) in particular brain areas makes MVPA an especially suitable method for investigating memory representations in brain structures such as the hippocampus. This approach could open up new opportunities to examine hippocampal representations in terms of their content, and how they might change over time, with aging, and pathology. Here we consider published MVPA studies that specifically focused on the hippocampus, and use them to illustrate the kinds of novel questions that can be addressed using MVPA. We then discuss some of the conceptual and methodological challenges that can arise when implementing MVPA in this context. Overall, we hope to highlight the potential utility of MVPA, when appropriately deployed, and provide some initial guidance to those considering MVPA as a means to investigate the hippocampus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory / physiology
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Neuroimaging