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Contralateral delay activity, but not alpha lateralization, indexes prioritization of information for working memory storage.

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Aagten-Murphy, David 
Busch, Niko A 


Working memory is inherently limited, which makes it important to select and maintain only task-relevant information and to protect it from distraction. Previous research has suggested the contralateral delay activity (CDA) and lateralized alpha oscillations as neural candidates for such a prioritization process. While most of this work focused on distraction during encoding, we examined the effect of external distraction presented during memory maintenance. Participants memorized the orientations of three lateralized objects. After an initial distraction-free maintenance interval, distractors appeared in the same location as the targets or in the opposite hemifield. This distraction was followed by another distraction-free interval. Our results show that CDA amplitudes were stronger in the interval before compared with the interval after the distraction (i.e., CDA amplitudes were stronger in response to targets compared with distractors). This amplitude reduction in response to distractors was more pronounced in participants with higher memory accuracy, indicating prioritization and maintenance of relevant over irrelevant information. In contrast, alpha lateralization did not change from the interval before distraction compared with the interval after distraction, and we found no correlation between alpha lateralization and memory accuracy. These results suggest that alpha lateralization plays no direct role in either selective maintenance of task-relevant information or inhibition of distractors. Instead, alpha lateralization reflects the current allocation of spatial attention to the most salient information regardless of task-relevance. In contrast, CDA indicates flexible allocation of working memory resources depending on task-relevance.


Funder: Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster (1056)


Alpha oscillations, Attention, Contralateral delay activity, Distractor inhibition, Visual working memory, Humans, Memory, Short-Term, Visual Perception, Electroencephalography, Photic Stimulation, Inhibition, Psychological

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Atten Percept Psychophys

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC