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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Alpha-Band Activity Reveals Spontaneous Representations of Spatial Position in Visual Working Memory

Joshua J Foster, Emma M Bsales, Russell J Jaffe, Edward Awh
Current Biology: CB 2017 October 23, 27 (20): 3216-3223.e6
29033335
An emerging view suggests that spatial position is an integral component of working memory (WM), such that non-spatial features are bound to locations regardless of whether space is relevant [1, 2]. For instance, past work has shown that stimulus position is spontaneously remembered when non-spatial features are stored. Item recognition is enhanced when memoranda appear at the same location where they were encoded [3-5], and accessing non-spatial information elicits shifts of spatial attention to the original position of the stimulus [6, 7]. However, these findings do not establish that a persistent, active representation of stimulus position is maintained in WM because similar effects have also been documented following storage in long-term memory [8, 9]. Here we show that the spatial position of the memorandum is actively coded by persistent neural activity during a non-spatial WM task. We used a spatial encoding model in conjunction with electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements of oscillatory alpha-band (8-12 Hz) activity to track active representations of spatial position. The position of the stimulus varied trial to trial but was wholly irrelevant to the tasks. We nevertheless observed active neural representations of the original stimulus position that persisted throughout the retention interval. Further experiments established that these spatial representations are dependent on the volitional storage of non-spatial features rather than being a lingering effect of sensory energy or initial encoding demands. These findings provide strong evidence that online spatial representations are spontaneously maintained in WM-regardless of task relevance-during the storage of non-spatial features.

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