Maintenance of relational information in working memory leads to suppression of the sensory cortex.

Mark McIntosh,'s picture
PubMed URL:
Courtney SM
Author List: 
Ikkai A
Blacker KJ
Lakshmanan BM
Ewen JB
Courtney SM
J Neurophysiol
PubMed ID: 
Working memory (WM) for sensory-based information about individual objects and their locations appears to involve interactions between lateral prefrontal and sensory cortexes. The mechanisms and representations for maintenance of more abstract, nonsensory information in WM are unknown, particularly whether such actively maintained information can become independent of the sensory information from which it was derived. Previous studies of WM for individual visual items found increased electroencephalogram (EEG) alpha (8-13 Hz) power over posterior electrode sites, which appears to correspond to the suppression of cortical areas that represent irrelevant sensory information. Here, we recorded EEG while participants performed a visual WM task that involved maintaining either concrete spatial coordinates or abstract relational information. Maintenance of relational information resulted in higher alpha power in posterior electrodes. Furthermore, lateralization of alpha power due to a covert shift of attention to one visual hemifield was marginally weaker during storage of relational information than during storage of concrete information. These results suggest that abstract relational information is maintained in WM differently from concrete, sensory representations and that during maintenance of abstract information, posterior sensory regions become task irrelevant and are thus suppressed.
Published Date: 
October, 2014

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