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Is There an Activity-silent Working Memory?


Oberauer, Klaus; Awh, Edward (2022). Is There an Activity-silent Working Memory? Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 34(12):2360-2374.

Abstract

Although storage in working memory (WM) can be tracked via measurements of ongoing neural activity, past work has shown that observers can maintain access to that information despite temporary interruptions of those neural patterns. This observation has been regarded as evidence for a neurally silent form of WM storage. Alternatively, however, unattended information could be retrieved from episodic long-term memory (eLTM) rather than being maintained in WM during the activity-silent period. Here, we tested between these possibilities by examining whether WM performance showed evidence of proactive interference (PI)-a hallmark of retrieval from eLTM-following such interruptions. Participants remembered the colors (Experiments 1-3) or locations (Experiment 4) of serially presented objects. We found PI for set sizes larger than 4, but not for smaller set sizes, suggesting that eLTM may have supported performance when WM capacity was exceeded. Critically, performance with small set sizes remained resistant to PI, even following prolonged interruptions by a challenging distractor task. Thus, we found evidence for PI-resistant memories that were maintained across likely interruptions of storage-related neural activity, an empirical pattern that implies activity-silent storage in WM.

Abstract

Although storage in working memory (WM) can be tracked via measurements of ongoing neural activity, past work has shown that observers can maintain access to that information despite temporary interruptions of those neural patterns. This observation has been regarded as evidence for a neurally silent form of WM storage. Alternatively, however, unattended information could be retrieved from episodic long-term memory (eLTM) rather than being maintained in WM during the activity-silent period. Here, we tested between these possibilities by examining whether WM performance showed evidence of proactive interference (PI)-a hallmark of retrieval from eLTM-following such interruptions. Participants remembered the colors (Experiments 1-3) or locations (Experiment 4) of serially presented objects. We found PI for set sizes larger than 4, but not for smaller set sizes, suggesting that eLTM may have supported performance when WM capacity was exceeded. Critically, performance with small set sizes remained resistant to PI, even following prolonged interruptions by a challenging distractor task. Thus, we found evidence for PI-resistant memories that were maintained across likely interruptions of storage-related neural activity, an empirical pattern that implies activity-silent storage in WM.

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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
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Cognitive Neuroscience
Language:English
Date:1 November 2022
Deposited On:08 Feb 2023 14:02
Last Modified:28 Apr 2024 01:49
Publisher:MIT Press
ISSN:0898-929X
OA Status:Green
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_01917
PubMed ID:36122353
  • Content: Accepted Version
  • Language: English