The role of the hippocampus in approach-avoidance conflict decision-making: Evidence from rodent and human studies

Behav Brain Res. 2016 Oct 15;313:345-357. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.07.039. Epub 2016 Jul 25.


The hippocampus (HPC) has been traditionally considered to subserve mnemonic processing and spatial cognition. Over the past decade, however, there has been increasing interest in its contributions to processes beyond these two domains. One question is whether the HPC plays an important role in decision-making under conditions of high approach-avoidance conflict, a scenario that arises when a goal stimulus is simultaneously associated with reward and punishment. This idea has its origins in rodent work conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, and has recently experienced a resurgence of interest in the literature. In this review, we will first provide an overview of classic rodent lesion data that first suggested a role for the HPC in approach-avoidance conflict processing and then proceed to describe a wide range of more recent evidence from studies conducted in rodents and humans. We will demonstrate that there is substantial, converging cross-species evidence to support the idea that the HPC, in particular the ventral (in rodents)/anterior (in humans) portion, contributes to approach-avoidance conflict decision making. Furthermore, we suggest that the seemingly disparate functions of the HPC (e.g. memory, spatial cognition, conflict processing) need not be mutually exclusive.

Keywords: Approach-avoidance; Conflict; Decision-making; Functional neuroimaging; Hippocampus; Human; Lesion; Long axis; Memory; Rodent; Septotemporal axis; Spatial cognition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology*
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Rodentia