Libraries, supermarkets, classrooms…the world is full of places that look very similar, and yet our brains always seem to keep track of where we are. In a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers at Princeton University and Ohio State University have uncovered one way in which the brain does this.
Similar-looking places can be distinguished from each other because of differences in what we experience when navigating to them. As we head toward a destination, our brains catalogue details such as other nearby buildings, the look of the doorway, even the people nearby.
The researchers discovered that the parahippocampal cortex, a part of the visual system that analyzes the current scene in front of us, also incorporates the details leading up to the scene, or its “temporal context.” As a result, even when two scenes look identical, we create different memory traces for them when their temporal contexts are different. Ultimately, this can help our brains to keep track of where we are in the world.
Learn more about Nicholas Turk-Browne‘s research at Princeton University.
Journal Citation: Turk-Browne NB, Simon MG, Sederberg PB. Scene representations in parahippocampal cortex depend on temporal context. J Neurosci. 2012 May 23;32(21):7202-7.