Common mechanisms of spatial attention in memory and perception: a tactile dual-task study

Tobias Katus, Søren K Andersen, Matthias M Müller
Cerebral Cortex 2014, 24 (3): 707-18
Orienting attention to locations in mnemonic representations engages processes that functionally and anatomically overlap the neural circuitry guiding prospective shifts of spatial attention. The attention-based rehearsal account predicts that the requirement to withdraw attention from a memorized location impairs memory accuracy. In a dual-task study, we simultaneously presented retro-cues and pre-cues to guide spatial attention in short-term memory (STM) and perception, respectively. The spatial direction of each cue was independent of the other. The locations indicated by the combined cues could be compatible (same hand) or incompatible (opposite hands). Incompatible directional cues decreased lateralized activity in brain potentials evoked by visual cues, indicating interference in the generation of prospective attention shifts. The detection of external stimuli at the prospectively cued location was impaired when the memorized location was part of the perceptually ignored hand. The disruption of attention-based rehearsal by means of incompatible pre-cues reduced memory accuracy and affected encoding of tactile test stimuli at the retrospectively cued hand. These findings highlight the functional significance of spatial attention for spatial STM. The bidirectional interactions between both tasks demonstrate that spatial attention is a shared neural resource of a capacity-limited system that regulates information processing in internal and external stimulus representations.

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