The interrelations between verbal working memory and visual selection of emotional faces

Alessandro Grecucci, David Soto, Raffaella Ida Rumiati, Glyn W Humphreys, Pia Rotshtein
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2010, 22 (6): 1189-200
Working memory (WM) and visual selection processes interact in a reciprocal fashion based on overlapping representations abstracted from the physical characteristics of stimuli. Here, we assessed the neural basis of this interaction using facial expressions that conveyed emotion information. Participants memorized an emotional word for a later recognition test and then searched for a face of a particular gender presented in a display with two faces that differed in gender and expression. The relation between the emotional word and the expressions of the target and distractor faces was varied. RTs for the memory test were faster when the target face matched the emotional word held in WM (on valid trials) relative to when the emotional word matched the expression of the distractor (on invalid trials). There was also enhanced activation on valid compared with invalid trials in the lateral orbital gyrus, superior frontal polar (BA 10), lateral occipital sulcus, and pulvinar. Re-presentation of the WM stimulus in the search display led to an earlier onset of activity in the superior and inferior frontal gyri and the anterior hippocampus irrespective of the search validity of the re-presented stimulus. The data indicate that the middle temporal and prefrontal cortices are sensitive to the reappearance of stimuli that are held in WM, whereas a fronto-thalamic occipital network is sensitive to the behavioral significance of the match between WM and targets for selection. We conclude that these networks are modulated by high-level matches between the contents of WM, behavioral goals, and current sensory input.

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