Transient perceptual neglect: visual working memory load affects conscious object processing

Stephen M Emrich, Hana Burianová, Susanne Ferber
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2011, 23 (10): 2968-82
Visual working memory (VWM) is a capacity-limited cognitive resource that plays an important role in complex cognitive behaviors. Recent studies indicate that regions subserving VWM may play a role in the perception and recognition of visual objects, suggesting that conscious object perception may depend on the same cognitive and neural architecture that supports the maintenance of visual object information. In the present study, we examined this question by testing object processing under a concurrent VWM load. Under a high VWM load, recognition was impaired for objects presented in the left visual field, in particular when two objects were presented simultaneously. Multivariate fMRI revealed that two independent but partially overlapping networks of brain regions contribute to object recognition. The first network consisted of regions involved in VWM encoding and maintenance. Importantly, these regions were also sensitive to object load. The second network comprised regions of the ventral temporal lobes traditionally associated with object recognition. Importantly, activation in both networks predicted object recognition performance. These results indicate that information processing in regions that mediate VWM may be critical to conscious visual perception. Moreover, the observation of a hemifield asymmetry in object recognition performance has important theoretical and clinical significance for the study of visual neglect.

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