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Hippocampus. 2017 Mar;27(3):303-314. doi: 10.1002/hipo.22694. Epub 2017 Jan 7.

Deciding what is possible and impossible following hippocampal damage in humans.

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Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom.


There is currently much debate about whether the precise role of the hippocampus in scene processing is predominantly constructive, perceptual, or mnemonic. Here, we developed a novel experimental paradigm designed to control for general perceptual and mnemonic demands, thus enabling us to specifically vary the requirement for constructive processing. We tested the ability of patients with selective bilateral hippocampal damage and matched control participants to detect either semantic (e.g., an elephant with butterflies for ears) or constructive (e.g., an endless staircase) violations in realistic images of scenes. Thus, scenes could be semantically or constructively 'possible' or 'impossible'. Importantly, general perceptual and memory requirements were similar for both types of scene. We found that the patients performed comparably to control participants when deciding whether scenes were semantically possible or impossible, but were selectively impaired at judging if scenes were constructively possible or impossible. Post-task debriefing indicated that control participants constructed flexible mental representations of the scenes in order to make constructive judgements, whereas the patients were more constrained and typically focused on specific fragments of the scenes, with little indication of having constructed internal scene models. These results suggest that one contribution the hippocampus makes to scene processing is to construct internal representations of spatially coherent scenes, which may be vital for modelling the world during both perception and memory recall. © 2016 The Authors. Hippocampus Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


amnesia; hippocampus; impossible scenes; scene construction; semantic knowledge

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