Modality-specific control processes in verbal versus spatial working memory

Scott Watter, Jennifer J Heisz, James W Karle, Judith M Shedden, Ivan Kiss
Brain Research 2010 August 6, 1347: 90-103
Over the past decade, neuroimaging and electrophysiological studies of working memory (WM) have made progress in distinguishing the neural substrates of central executive (CE) functions from substrates of temporary storage subsystems. However, the degree to which CE-related processes and their substrates may be further fractionated is less clear. The present study measured event-related potentials (ERPs) in a running memory paradigm, to study modality-specific CE-related processes in verbal and spatial WM. Participants were asked to remember either verbal (digit identity) or spatial (digit location) information for the first or last three items in a variable length sequence of spatially distributed digit stimuli. Modality-specific WM demand-sensitive ERP amplitude effects were selectively observed over left prefrontal areas under verbal WM performance and over right prefrontal areas under spatial WM performance. In addition, distinct patterns of item-by-item sensitivity under high-CE-demand conditions suggested qualitatively different processing strategies for verbal versus spatial tasks. These results suggest that both modality-specific and task-general CE-related processes are likely operational in many WM situations and that careful dissociative methods will be needed to properly further fractionate and characterize these component CE-related processes and their neurological substrates.

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