Spatially selective alpha oscillations reveal moment-by-moment trade-offs between working memory and attention

Dirk van Moorselaar*, Joshua J. Foster, David W. Sutterer, Jan Theeuwes, Christian N.L. Olivers, Edward Awh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

289 Downloads (Pure)


Current theories assume a functional role for covert attention in the maintenance of spatial information in working memory. Consistent with this view, both the locus of attention and positions stored in working memory can be decoded based on the topography of oscillatory alpha-band (8-12 Hz) activity on the scalp. Thus far, however, alpha modulation has been studied in isolation for covert attention and working memory tasks. Here, we applied an inverted spatial encoding model in combination with EEG to study the temporal dynamics of spatially specific alpha activity during a task that required observers to visually select a target location while maintaining another independently varying location in working memory. During the memory delay period, alpha-based spatial tuning functions shifted from the position stored in working memory to the covertly attended position and back again after the attention task was completed. The findings provide further evidence for a common oscillatory mechanism in both the selection and the maintenance of relevant spatial visual information and demonstrate the dynamic trade-off in prioritization between two spatial tasks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)256-266
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number2
Early online date29 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


This research was supported by a European Research Council (ERC) advanced grant (ERC-2012-AdG-323413) to J. T., an ERC consolidator grant (ERC-2013-CoG-615423) to C. N. L. O., and NIMH grant 2R01MH087214-06A1 to E. A. D. v. M. contributed to design, collected the data, performed the analyses, and contributed most of the writing. Both C. N. L. O. and E. A. closely supervised the project, were involved in design and writing, and share senior (last) authorship. J. J. F. and D. W. S. aided in the analyses and contributed to writing. J. T. contributed to general design and writing.

FundersFunder number
National Institute of Mental HealthR01MH087214
European Research CouncilERC-2012-AdG-323413, ERC-2013-CoG-615423


    Dive into the research topics of 'Spatially selective alpha oscillations reveal moment-by-moment trade-offs between working memory and attention'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this