Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Recent work suggests that a key function of the hippocampus is to predict the future. This is thought to depend on its ability to bind inputs over time and space and to retrieve upcoming or missing inputs based on partial cues. In line with this, previous research has revealed prediction-related signals in the hippocampus for complex visual objects, such as fractals and abstract shapes. Implicit in such accounts is that these computations in the hippocampus reflect domain-general processes that apply across different types and modalities of stimuli. An alternative is that the hippocampus plays a more domain-specific role in predictive processing, with the type of stimuli being predicted determining its involvement. To investigate this, we compared hippocampal responses to auditory cues predicting abstract shapes (Experiment 1) versus oriented gratings (Experiment 2). We measured brain activity in male and female human participants using high-resolution fMRI, in combination with inverted encoding models to reconstruct shape and orientation information. Our results revealed that expectations about shape and orientation evoked distinct representations in the hippocampus. For complex shapes, the hippocampus represented which shape was expected, potentially serving as a source of top–down predictions. In contrast, for simple gratings, the hippocampus represented only unexpected orientations, more reminiscent of a prediction error. We discuss several potential explanations for this content-based dissociation in hippocampal function, concluding that the computational role of the hippocampus in predictive processing may depend on the nature and complexity of stimuli.