The Continuity of Context: A Role for the Hippocampus

Trends Cogn Sci. 2021 Mar;25(3):187-199. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2020.12.007. Epub 2021 Jan 8.


Tracking moment-to-moment change in input and detecting change sufficient to require altering behavior is crucial to survival. Here, we discuss how the brain evaluates change over time, focusing on the hippocampus and its role in tracking context. We leverage the anatomy and physiology of the hippocampal longitudinal axis, re-entrant loops, and amorphous networks to account for stimulus equivalence and the updating of an organism's sense of its context. Place cells have a central role in tracking contextual continuities and discontinuities across multiple scales, a capacity beyond current models of pattern separation and completion. This perspective highlights the critical role of the hippocampus in both spatial cognition and episodic memory: tracking change and detecting boundaries separating one context, or episode, from another.

Keywords: context; dynamical systems; hippocampus; longitudinal axis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain
  • Cognition
  • Hippocampus*
  • Memory, Episodic*