The parahippocampal place area (PPA) is a sub-region of the parahippocampal cortex that lies medially in the inferior temporo-occipital cortex. PPA plays an important role in the encoding and recognition of environmental scenes (rather than faces). fMRI studies indicate that this region of the brain becomes highly active when human subjects view topographical scene stimuli such as images of landscapes, cityscapes, or rooms (i.e. images of "places"). The region was first described by Russell Epstein (currently at the University of Pennsylvania) and Nancy Kanwisher (currently at MIT) in 1998, see also other similar reports by Geoffrey Aguirre and Alumit Ishai.
Damage to the PPA (for example, due to stroke) often leads to a syndrome in which patients cannot visually recognize scenes even though they can recognize the individual objects in the scenes (such as people, furniture, etc.). The PPA is often considered the complement of the fusiform face area (FFA), a nearby cortical region that responds strongly whenever faces are viewed, and that is believed to be important for face recognition.
Additional research has increased the probability that the right parahippocampal gyrus in particular has functions beyond the contextualizing of visual background. Tests by a California-based group led by Katherine P. Rankin indicate that the lobe may play a crucial role in identifying social context as well, including paralinguistic elements of verbal communication. For example, Rankin's research suggests that the right parahippocampal gyrus enables people to detect sarcasm.