Discovering Event Structure in Continuous Narrative Perception and Memory

Neuron. 2017 Aug 2;95(3):709-721.e5. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.06.041.


During realistic, continuous perception, humans automatically segment experiences into discrete events. Using a novel model of cortical event dynamics, we investigate how cortical structures generate event representations during narrative perception and how these events are stored to and retrieved from memory. Our data-driven approach allows us to detect event boundaries as shifts between stable patterns of brain activity without relying on stimulus annotations and reveals a nested hierarchy from short events in sensory regions to long events in high-order areas (including angular gyrus and posterior medial cortex), which represent abstract, multimodal situation models. High-order event boundaries are coupled to increases in hippocampal activity, which predict pattern reinstatement during later free recall. These areas also show evidence of anticipatory reinstatement as subjects listen to a familiar narrative. Based on these results, we propose that brain activity is naturally structured into nested events, which form the basis of long-term memory representations.

Keywords: Hidden Markov Model; event model; event segmentation; fMRI; hippocampus; memory; narrative; perception; recall; reinstatement; situation model.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted* / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult