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Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Mar 26;6:70. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00070. eCollection 2012.

The hippocampus and inferential reasoning: building memories to navigate future decisions.

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Center for Learning and Memory, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin TX, USA.


A critical aspect of inferential reasoning is the ability to form relationships between items or events that were not experienced together. This review considers different perspectives on the role of the hippocampus in successful inferential reasoning during both memory encoding and retrieval. Intuitively, inference can be thought of as a logical process by which elements of individual existing memories are retrieved and recombined to answer novel questions. Such flexible retrieval is sub-served by the hippocampus and is thought to require specialized hippocampal encoding mechanisms that discretely code events such that event elements are individually accessible from memory. In addition to retrieval-based inference, recent research has also focused on hippocampal processes that support the combination of information acquired across multiple experiences during encoding. This mechanism suggests that by recalling past events during new experiences, connections can be created between newly formed and existing memories. Such hippocampally mediated memory integration would thus underlie the formation of networks of related memories that extend beyond direct experience to anticipate future judgments about the relationships between items and events. We also discuss integrative encoding in the context of emerging evidence linking the hippocampus to the formation of schemas as well as prospective theories of hippocampal function that suggest memories are actively constructed to anticipate future decisions and actions.


encoding; flexibility; hippocampus; inference; integration; memory; retrieval

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