Attention Stabilizes Representations in the Human Hippocampus

Mariam Aly, Nicholas B. Turk-Browne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Attention and memory are intricately linked, but how attention modulates brain areas that subserve memory, such as the hippocampus, is unknown. We hypothesized that attention may stabilize patterns of activity in human hippocampus, resulting in distinct but reliable activity patterns for different attentional states. To test this prediction, we utilized high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging and a novel "art gallery" task. On each trial, participants viewed a room containing a painting, and searched a stream of rooms for a painting from the same artist (art state) or a room with the same layout (room state). Bottom-up stimulation was the same in both tasks, enabling the isolation of neural effects related to top-down attention. Multivariate analyses revealed greater pattern similarity in all hippocampal subfields for trials from the same, compared with different, attentional state. This stability was greater for the room than art state, was unrelated to univariate activity, and, in CA2/CA3/DG, was correlated with behavior. Attention therefore induces representational stability in the human hippocampus, resulting in distinct activity patterns for different attentional states. Modulation of hippocampal representational stability highlights the far-reaching influence of attention outside of sensory systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)783-796
Number of pages14
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • Attentional modulation
  • High-resolution fMRI
  • Hippocampal subfields
  • Medial temporal lobe
  • Task representations


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