Preparation for upcoming attentional states in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex

  1. Eren Günseli  Is a corresponding author
  2. Mariam Aly
  1. Sabanci University, Turkey
  2. Columbia University, United States


Goal-directed attention is usually studied by providing individuals with explicit instructions on what they should attend to. But in daily life, we often use past experiences to guide our attentional states. Given the importance of memory for predicting upcoming events, we hypothesized that memory-guided attention is supported by neural preparation for anticipated attentional states. We examined preparatory coding in the human hippocampus and mPFC, two regions that are important for memory-guided behaviors, in two tasks: one where attention was guided by memory and another in which attention was explicitly instructed. Hippocampus and mPFC exhibited higher activity for memory-guided vs. explicitly instructed attention. Furthermore, representations in both regions contained information about upcoming attentional states. In the hippocampus, this preparation was stronger for memory-guided attention, and occurred alongside stronger coupling with visual cortex during attentional guidance. These results highlight the mechanisms by which memories are used to prepare for upcoming attentional goals.

Data availability

All data used in the analyses will be made publicly available on the Open Science Framework:

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Eren Günseli

    Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7944-7774
  2. Mariam Aly

    Department of Psychology, Columbia University, New York, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-4033-6134


National Science Foundation (BCS-184421)

  • Mariam Aly

Zuckerman Institute Seed Grant for MR Studies (CU-ZI-MR-S-0001)

  • Mariam Aly

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Morgan Barense, University of Toronto, Canada


Human subjects: The study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Columbia University (Protocol number: AAAR5338). Written informed consent was obtained from all participants.

Version history

  1. Received: October 31, 2019
  2. Accepted: April 7, 2020
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: April 7, 2020 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: May 19, 2020 (version 2)


© 2020, Günseli & Aly

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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  1. Eren Günseli
  2. Mariam Aly
Preparation for upcoming attentional states in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex
eLife 9:e53191.

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