Abstract

It is well established that the hippocampus is critical for memory. Recent evidence suggests that one function of hippocampal memory processing is to optimize how people actively explore the world. Here we demonstrate that the link between the hippocampus and exploration extends even to the moment-to-moment use of eye movements during visuospatial memory encoding. In Experiment 1, we examined relationships between study-phase eye movements in healthy individuals and subsequent performance on a spatial reconstruction test. In addition to quantitative measures of viewing behaviors (e.g., how many fixations or saccades were deployed during study), we used the information–theoretic measure of entropy to assess the amount of randomness or disorganization in participants' scanning behaviors. We found that the use of scanpaths during study that were lower in entropy (e.g., more organized, less random) predicted more accurate spatial reconstruction both within and between participants. Scanpath entropy was a better predictor of reconstruction accuracy than were the quantitative measures of viewing. In Experiment 2, we found that individuals with hippocampal amnesia tended to engage in viewing patterns that were higher in entropy (less organized) relative to healthy comparisons. These findings reveal a critical role of the hippocampus in guiding eye movement exploration to optimize visuospatial relational memory.

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