By Rachel Burd

            Researchers have known that the hippocampus, located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain, is not only responsible for remembering the past, but is also involved in conceptualizing the future.  Over the past decade, the role of the hippocampus in episodic imagining was not clear.  However, new findings from researchers at Boston University Medical Center (BUSM) suggest that the hippocampus is crucial in the human brain’s process of mentally constructing a scene.

            In the study, BUSM researchers performed functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans on healthy adults while they were imagining events.  Subjects answered questions about the present or the future, and researchers compared the hippocampal activity between the two groups.  Daniela Palombo, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Memory Disorders Research Center at BUSM and at the VA Boston Healthcare System, commented that researchers “observed no differences in hippocampal activity when we compared present versus future imaging.”

However, researchers also studied hippocampal activity when subjects answered questions about the future that did not require imagination of a scene.  Palombo explained that “we did observe stronger activity in the hippocampus when participants imagined a scene compared to when they did not.”  Palombo thinks that these findings suggest “a role for the hippocampus in scene construction, but not mental time travel.”

            Learning about the role of the hippocampus in a healthy brain is critical to understanding and treating neurological conditions that involve compromised cognitive function.   According to Palombo, knowing which aspects of future imagining are dependent on the hippocampus and which aspects are not will help researchers to design more effective rehabilitation strategies.  Such rehabilitation will utilize cognitive functions that endure hippocampal dysfunction and will potentially create alternate mechanisms for future thinking.



Boston University Medical Center. (2016, December 6). Researchers uncover how hippocampus influences future thinking. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2016 from