Distinct causal mechanisms of attentional guidance by working memory and repetition priming in early visual cortex

David Soto, Dafydd Llewelyn, Juha Silvanto
Journal of Neuroscience 2012 March 7, 32 (10): 3447-52
Human attention may be guided by representations held in working memory (WM) and also by priming from implicit memory. Neurophysiological data suggest that WM and priming may be associated with distinct neural mechanisms, but this prior evidence is only correlative. Furthermore, the role of the visual cortex in attention biases from memory remains unclear, because most previous studies conflated memory and selection processes. Here, we manipulated memory and attention in an orthogonal fashion and used an interventional approach to demonstrate the functional significance of WM and priming states in visual cortex for attentional biasing. Observers searched for a Landolt target that was preceded by a nonpredictive color cue that either had to be held in WM for a later recognition test or merely attended (priming counterpart). The application of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the occipital cortex modulated the impact of memory on search. Critically, the direction of this modulation depended on the memory state. In the WM condition, the application of TMS on validly cued trials (when the cue surrounded the sought target) enhanced search accuracy relative to the invalid trials (when the cue surrounded a distracter); the opposite pattern was observed in the priming condition. That the effects of occipital TMS on selection were contingent on memory context demonstrates that WM and priming represent distinct states in the early visual cortex that play a causal role in memory-based guidance of attention.

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