The Role of the Hippocampus in Prediction and Imagination
Traditionally, the hippocampal system has been studied in relation to the goal of retrieving memories about the past. Recent work in humans and rodents suggests that the hippocampal system may be better understood as a system that facilitates predictions about upcoming events. The hippocampus and associated cortical structures are active when people envision future events, and damage that includes the hippocampal region impairs this ability. In rats, hippocampal ensembles preplay and replay event sequences in the absence of overt behavior. If strung together in novel combinations, these sequences could provide the neural building blocks for simulating upcoming events during decision-making, planning, and when imagining novel scenarios. Moreover, in both humans and rodents, the hippocampal system is spontaneously active during task-free epochs and sleep, further suggesting that the system may use idle moments to derive new representations that set the context for future behaviors.
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