The parahippocampal cortex (PHC) has been traditionally implicated both in place processing and in episodic memory. How could the same cortical region mediate these cognitive functions that seem quite different? We have recently proposed that the PHC should be seen as more generally mediating contextual associative processing, which is required for both navigation and memory. We therefore predicted that any associative objects should activate the PHC. To test this generalization, we investigated the extent to which common stimuli that are nonspatial by nature, namely faces, activate the PHC, although their perception is typically associated with other cortical structures. Specifically, we compared the activation elicited by famous faces, which are highly associated with rich pictorial and contextual information (e.g., Tom Cruise) and are not associated with a specific place, with activation elicited by unfamiliar faces. Consistent with our prediction, contrasting famous with unfamiliar faces revealed significant activation within the PHC. Taken collectively, these findings indicate that the PHC should be regarded as mediating contextual associations in general and not necessarily spatial or episodic information.
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