Seminar Series

A hierarchy of temporal receptive windows in human cortex

Real-world events unfold at different time scales, and therefore cognitive and neuronal processes must likewise occur at different time scales. In the talk I will present a novel procedure that identifies brain regions responsive to the preceding sequence of events (past time) over different time scales. The fMRI activity was measured while observers viewed silent films presented forward, backward, or piecewise-scrambled in time. The results demonstrate that responses in different brain areas are affected by information that has been accumulated over different time scales, with a hierarchy of temporal receptive windows spanning from short (~4 s) to intermediate (~12 s) and long (~ 36 s). Thus, although we adopted an open-ended experimental protocol (free viewing of complex stimuli), we found that parametric manipulation of the temporal structure of a complex movie sequence produced lawful changes in cortical activity across different brain regions. In addition to the reliable cortical response patterns, I will also show that films exerted considerable control over the subjects’ behavior (i.e., eye movements or galvanic skin responses), and memory performance. Finally, I will present few applications of this method for studying the neuronal correlates of complex human behaviors under more natural settings.