Electrophysiological evidence that top-down knowledge controls working memory processing for subsequent visual search

Tomoya Kawashima, Eriko Matsumoto
Neuroreport 2016 March 23, 27 (5): 345-9
Items in working memory guide visual attention toward a memory-matching object. Recent studies have shown that when searching for an object this attentional guidance can be modulated by knowing the probability that the target will match an item in working memory. Here, we recorded the P3 and contralateral delay activity to investigate how top-down knowledge controls the processing of working memory items. Participants performed memory task (recognition only) and memory-or-search task (recognition or visual search) in which they were asked to maintain two colored oriented bars in working memory. For visual search, we manipulated the probability that target had the same color as memorized items (0, 50, or 100%). Participants knew the probabilities before the task. Target detection in 100% match condition was faster than that in 50% match condition, indicating that participants used their knowledge of the probabilities. We found that the P3 amplitude in 100% condition was larger than in other conditions and that contralateral delay activity amplitude did not vary across conditions. These results suggest that more attention was allocated to the memory items when observers knew in advance that their color would likely match a target. This led to better search performance despite using qualitatively equal working memory representations.

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