Visual search elicits the electrophysiological marker of visual working memory

Stephen M Emrich, Naseem Al-Aidroos, Jay Pratt, Susanne Ferber
PloS One 2009, 4 (11): e8042

BACKGROUND: Although limited in capacity, visual working memory (VWM) plays an important role in many aspects of visually-guided behavior. Recent experiments have demonstrated an electrophysiological marker of VWM encoding and maintenance, the contralateral delay activity (CDA), which has been shown in multiple tasks that have both explicit and implicit memory demands. Here, we investigate whether the CDA is evident during visual search, a thoroughly-researched task that is a hallmark of visual attention but has no explicit memory requirements.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: The results demonstrate that the CDA is present during a lateralized search task, and that it is similar in amplitude to the CDA observed in a change-detection task, but peaks slightly later. The changes in CDA amplitude during search were strongly correlated with VWM capacity, as well as with search efficiency. These results were paralleled by behavioral findings showing a strong correlation between VWM capacity and search efficiency.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: We conclude that the activity observed during visual search was generated by the same neural resources that subserve VWM, and that this activity reflects the maintenance of previously searched distractors.

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