New tools reveal how the brain processes narrative events

Aug. 2, 2017

Associate research scholar Chris Baldassano, associate professor Jonathan Pillow, and a team of researchers from the labs of Kenneth Norman and Uri Hasson at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute and the Department of Psychology have developed new mathematical tools for understanding how the brain processes movies and stories.

Using functional MRI data of study participants watching an episode of a BBC mystery television show, the researchers found that the brain breaks down the continuous narrative into individual events, which are constructed across a hierarchy of brain regions and then stored into long-term memory.

Below, brain activity was recorded using an fMRI while study subjects watched the television show "Sherlock." The recording is shown at 35 times actual speed. The highlighted brain region is the angular gyrus, a region found to construct high-level chunks lasting approximately one minute. At right, the moving dot represents the pattern of activity in angular gyrus, relative to the nine landmark patterns shown. The speed of the dot shows how quickly the brain activity pattern is changing. A quick jump indicates that the activity pattern changed rapidly. Dots with the same color belong to the same chunk, as determined by the model developed by the authors. 

(Video courtesy of the researchers)

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Full Story:
Princeton researchers show how the brain breaks down events

In Neuron
Discovering Event Structure in Continuous Narrative Perception and Memory