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Thomas Sprague, Edward Ester, John Serences; Visual and parietal spatial working memory representations are robust to brief irrelevant distracters. Journal of Vision 2016;16(12):702. doi: 10.1167/16.12.702.
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© 2017 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Visual working memory (WM) enables the maintenance and manipulation of information no longer accessible in the visual world. Previous research has identified WM representations in activation patterns in visual, parietal, and frontal cortex (Serences et al, 2009; Harrison & Tong, 2009; Ester et al, 2013; Sprague, Ester & Serences, 2014; Ester, Sprague & Serences, 2015; Bettencourt & Xu, 2015). In natural vision, the period between the encoding of information into WM and the time when it is used to guide behavior (the delay period) is rarely "empty", as is the case in most of the above laboratory experiments. In naturalistic conditions, eye movements, movement of the individual, and events in the environment result in visual signals which may overwrite or impair the fidelity of WM representations, especially in early sensory cortices. Here, we evaluated the extent to which a brief, irrelevant distracter stimulus presented during a spatial WM delay period impaired behavioral performance and WM representation fidelity assayed using an image reconstruction technique (inverted encoding model; Sprague, Ester & Serences, 2014). On each trial, participants viewed two target dots and were immediately post-cued to remember the precise spatial position of one dot. On 50% of trials, a 500 ms flickering radial checkerboard distracter stimulus (40% contrast) appeared; on the other 50% of trials, no distracter appeared. While we observed strong transient univariate visual responses to the distracter stimulus, we saw no change in the fidelity of reconstructed neural WM representations under distraction, nor a change in behavioral performance on a continuous recall task. These results suggest that spatial WM representations may be particularly robust to interference from incoming visual information, perhaps related to their role in guiding movements.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2016
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