Episodic memory is known to rely on the hippocampus, but how the hippocampus organizes different episodes to permit their subsequent retrieval remains controversial. One major area of debate hinges on a discrepancy between two hypothesized roles of the hippocampus: differentiating between similar events to reduce interference and assigning similar representations to events that share overlapping items and contextual information. Here, we used multivariate analyses of activity patterns measured with fMRI to characterize how the hippocampus distinguishes between memories based on similarity at the level of items and/or context. Hippocampal activity patterns discriminated between events that shared either item or context information but generalized across events that shared similar item–context associations. The current findings provide evidence that, whereas the hippocampus can reduce mnemonic interference by separating events that generalize along a single attribute dimension, overlapping hippocampal codes may support memory for events with overlapping item–context relations. This lends new insights into the way the hippocampus may balance multiple mnemonic operations in adaptively guiding behavior.

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