The hippocampal film editor: Sensitivity and specificity to event boundaries in continuous experience

Aya Ben-Yakov*, Richard N. Henson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


The function of the human hippocampus is normally investigated by experimental manipulation of discrete events. Less is known about what triggers hippocampal activity during more naturalistic, continuous experience. We hypothesized that the hippocampus would be sensitive to the occurrence of event boundaries, that is, moments in time identified by observers as a transition between events. To address this, we analyzed functional MRI data from two groups: one (n = 253, 131 female) who viewed an 8.5 min film and another (n = 15, 6 female) who viewed a 120 min film. We observed a strong hippocampal response at boundaries defined by independent observers, which was modulated by boundary salience (the number of observers that identified each boundary). In the longer film, there were sufficient boundaries to show that this modulation remained after covarying out a large number of perceptual factors. This hypothesis-driven approach was complemented by a data-driven approach, in which we identified hippocampal events as moments in time with the strongest hippocampal activity. The correspondence between these hippocampal events and event boundaries was highly significant, revealing that the hippocampal response is not only sensitive, but also specific to event boundaries. We conclude that event boundaries play a key role in shaping hippocampal activity during encoding of naturalistic events.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)10057-10068
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number47
StatePublished - 21 Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Ben-Yakov et al.


  • Event boundaries
  • Hippocampus
  • Long-term memory
  • Movie
  • Segmentation


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