Attention promotes episodic encoding by stabilizing hippocampal representations

Mariam Aly, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Attention influences what is later remembered, but little is known about how this occurs in the brain. We hypothesized that behavioral goals modulate the attentional state of the hippocampus to prioritize goal-relevant aspects of experience for encoding. Participants viewed rooms with paintings, attending to room layouts or painting styles on different trials during high-resolution functional MRI. We identified template activity patterns in each hippocampal subfield that corresponded to the attentional state induced by each task. Participants then incidentally encoded new rooms with art while attending to the layout or painting style, and memory was subsequently tested. We found that when task-relevant information was better remembered, the hippocampus was more likely to have been in the correct attentional state during encoding. This effect was specific to the hippocampus, and not found in medial temporal lobe cortex, category-selective areas of the visual system, or elsewhere in the brain. These findings provide mechanistic insight into how attention transforms percepts into memories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E420-E429
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 26 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


  • Hippocampal subfields
  • Long-term memory
  • Medial temporal lobe
  • Representational stability
  • Selective attention


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