In our latest paper, now out in Current Biology, we show that as a result of concept learning, the human hippocampus encodes distances between points in a multidimensional feature space defined along task-relevant perceptual dimensions. These findings support the view that hippocampal coding principles provide a metric for “cognitive space” beyond navigation.

The hippocampal formation encodes maps of the physical environment. A key question in neuroscience is whether its spatial coding principles also provide a universal metric for the organization of non-spatial information. Initial evidence comes from studies revealing directional modulation of fMRI responses in humans. However, a critical feature of a map-like representation is information about distances between locations, which has yet only been demonstrated for physical space. Here, we probe whether the hippocampus similarly encodes distances between points in an abstract space spanned by continuous stimulus-feature dimensions that were relevant to the acquisition of a novel concept. We find that, after learning, two-dimensional distances between individual positions in the abstract space were represented in the hippocampal multivoxel pattern as well as in the univariate hippocampal signal as indexed by fMRI adaptation. These results support the notion that the hippocampus computes domain-general, multidimensional cognitive maps along continuous dimensions.

Theves, S., Fernandez, G., Doeller, C. F. (2019). The Hippocampus Encodes Distances in Multidimensional Feature Space. Current Biology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2019.02.035