Professor of the Practice of Law University of Denver Sturm College of Law

Powerful Hippocampus

The hippocampus is a structure deep in the emotional brain that processes memory.  It is critical for learning and recalling information stored in long-term memory.  A new study demonstrated that the hippocampus is important to short-term memory and decision-making as well.

Researchers used internal electrodes in the brains of 6 epilepsy patients to track activation patterns in the attention and visual networks.  While participants viewed complex pictures, scientists tracked their eye movements and brain activity.  The study revealed instant hippocampal activation during novel learning and short-term memory use, demonstrating that the hippocampus has a role in our perception, attention, and decision-making. 

As we use our eyes to scan our environment and take in new information, our hippocampus is activated and helps us decide what to pay attention to and where to look next.  A healthy hippocampus enables more effective perception, attention, decision-making, and long-term memory. 

Takeaway: Two of the most powerful lifestyle practices that empower the hippocampus are stress reduction and exercise.  The hippocampus is very vulnerable to damage from stress hormones, but brain plasticity allows it to recover when stress is under control.  And exercise produces a protein called BDNF that acts like a fertilizer for hippocampal brain cells. 



James E. Kragel, et al., Rapid Coordination of Effective Learning by the Human Hippocampus, Science Advances, June 18, 2021,

Debra S. Austin, Killing Them Softly: Neuroscience Reveals How Brain Cells Die from Law School Stress and How Neural Self-Hacking can Optimize Cognitive Performance, 59 Loy. L. Rev. 791, 824-26, 828-34 (2013), online at

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