Contralateral delay activity provides a neural measure of the number of representations in visual working memory

Akiko Ikkai, Andrew W McCollough, Edward K Vogel
Journal of Neurophysiology 2010, 103 (4): 1963-8
Visual working memory (VWM) helps to temporarily represent information from the visual environment and is severely limited in capacity. Recent work has linked various forms of neural activity to the ongoing representations in VWM. One piece of evidence comes from human event-related potential studies, which find a sustained contralateral negativity during the retention period of VWM tasks. This contralateral delay activity (CDA) has previously been shown to increase in amplitude as the number of memory items increases, up to the individual's working memory capacity limit. However, significant alternative hypotheses remain regarding the true nature of this activity. Here we test whether the CDA is modulated by the perceptual requirements of the memory items as well as whether it is determined by the number of locations that are being attended within the display. Our results provide evidence against these two alternative accounts and instead strongly support the interpretation that this activity reflects the current number of objects that are being represented in VWM.

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