EEG dynamics reveal a dissociation between storage and selective attention within working memory

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Selective attention plays a prominent role in prioritizing information in working memory (WM), improving performance for attended representations. However, it remains unclear whether unattended WM representations suffer from information loss. Here we tested the hypothesis that within WM, selectively attending to an item and stopping storing other items are independent mechanisms. We recorded EEG while participants performed a WM recall task in which the item most likely to be tested was cued retrospectively during retention. By manipulating retro-cue reliability (i.e., the ratio of valid to invalid cue trials), we varied the incentive to retain non-cued items. Storage and selective attention in WM were measured during the retention interval by contralateral delay activity (CDA) and contralateral alpha power suppression, respectively. Soon after highly reliable cues, the cued item was attended, and non-cued items suffered information loss. However, for less reliable cues, initially the cued item was attended, but unattended items were kept in WM. Later during the delay, previously unattended items suffered information loss despite now attention being reallocated to their locations, presumably to strengthen their weakening traces. These results show that storage and attention in WM are distinct processes that can behave differently depending on the relative importance of representations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13499
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2019


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