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Neural evidence for a distinction between short-term memory and the focus of attention


Lewis-Peacock, Jarrod A; Drysdale, Andrew T; Oberauer, Klaus; Postle, Bradley R (2012). Neural evidence for a distinction between short-term memory and the focus of attention. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 24(1):61-79.

Abstract

It is widely assumed that the short-term retention of information is accomplished via maintenance of an active neural trace. However, we demonstrate that memory can be preserved across a brief delay despite the apparent loss of sustained representations. Delay period activity may, in fact, reflect the focus of attention, rather than STM. We unconfounded attention and memory by causing external and internal shifts of attention away from items that were being actively retained. Multivariate pattern analysis of fMRI indicated that only items within the focus of attention elicited an active neural trace. Activity corresponding to representations of items outside the focus quickly dropped to baseline. Nevertheless, this information was remembered after a brief delay. Our data also show that refocusing attention toward a previously unattended memory item can reactivate its neural signature. The loss of sustained activity has long been thought to indicate a disruption of STM, but our results suggest that, even for small memory loads not exceeding the capacity limits of STM, the active maintenance of a stimulus representation may not be necessary for its short-term retention.

It is widely assumed that the short-term retention of information is accomplished via maintenance of an active neural trace. However, we demonstrate that memory can be preserved across a brief delay despite the apparent loss of sustained representations. Delay period activity may, in fact, reflect the focus of attention, rather than STM. We unconfounded attention and memory by causing external and internal shifts of attention away from items that were being actively retained. Multivariate pattern analysis of fMRI indicated that only items within the focus of attention elicited an active neural trace. Activity corresponding to representations of items outside the focus quickly dropped to baseline. Nevertheless, this information was remembered after a brief delay. Our data also show that refocusing attention toward a previously unattended memory item can reactivate its neural signature. The loss of sustained activity has long been thought to indicate a disruption of STM, but our results suggest that, even for small memory loads not exceeding the capacity limits of STM, the active maintenance of a stimulus representation may not be necessary for its short-term retention.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Psychology
Dewey Decimal Classification:150 Psychology
Language:English
Date:2012
Deposited On:04 Sep 2012 13:39
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:57
Publisher:MIT Press
ISSN:0898-929X
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:10.1162/jocn_a_00140
PubMed ID:21955164
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-64543

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