Hippocampal-cortical contributions to strategic exploration during perceptual discrimination

Joel L. Voss*, Neal J. Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The hippocampus is crucial for long-term memory; its involvement in short-term or immediate expressions of memory is more controversial. Rodent hippocampus has been implicated in an expression of memory that occurs on-line during exploration termed “vicarious trial-and-error” (VTE) behavior. VTE occurs when rodents iteratively explore options during perceptual discrimination or at choice points. It is strategic in that it accelerates learning and improves later memory. VTE has been associated with activity of rodent hippocampal neurons, and lesions of hippocampus disrupt VTE and associated learning and memory advantages. Analogous findings of VTE in humans would support the role of hippocampus in active use of short-term memory to guide strategic behavior. We therefore measured VTE using eye-movement tracking during perceptual discrimination and identified relevant neural correlates with functional magnetic resonance imaging. A difficult perceptual-discrimination task was used that required visual information to be maintained during a several second trial, but with no long-term memory component. VTE accelerated discrimination. Neural correlates of VTE included robust activity of hippocampus and activity of a network of medial prefrontal and lateral parietal regions involved in memory-guided behavior. This VTE-related activity was distinct from activity associated with simply viewing visual stimuli and making eye movements during the discrimination task, which occurred in regions frequently associated with visual processing and eye-movement control. Subjects were mostly unaware of performing VTE, thus further distancing VTE from explicit long-term memory processing. These findings bridge the rodent and human literatures on neural substrates of memory-guided behavior, and provide further support for the role of hippocampus and a hippocampal-centered network of cortical regions in the immediate use of memory in on-line processing and the guidance of behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)642-652
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2017


  • eye-movement tracking
  • functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • hippocampus
  • short-term memory
  • vicarious trial-and-error behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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