Working memory as an emergent property of the mind and brain

Neuroscience. 2006 Apr 28;139(1):23-38. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.06.005. Epub 2005 Dec 1.


Cognitive neuroscience research on working memory has been largely motivated by a standard model that arose from the melding of psychological theory with neuroscience data. Among the tenets of this standard model are that working memory functions arise from the operation of specialized systems that act as buffers for the storage and manipulation of information, and that frontal cortex (particularly prefrontal cortex) is a critical neural substrate for these specialized systems. However, the standard model has been a victim of its own success, and can no longer accommodate many of the empirical findings of studies that it has motivated. An alternative is proposed: Working memory functions arise through the coordinated recruitment, via attention, of brain systems that have evolved to accomplish sensory-, representation-, and action-related functions. Evidence from behavioral, neuropsychological, electrophysiological, and neuroimaging studies, from monkeys and humans, is considered, as is the question of how to interpret delay-period activity in the prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Cognitive Science / methods
  • Cognitive Science / trends*
  • Haplorhini / physiology
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurosciences / methods
  • Neurosciences / trends*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychophysiology