Electrophysiological measures of maintaining representations in visual working memory

Cortex. 2007 Jan;43(1):77-94. doi: 10.1016/s0010-9452(08)70447-7.


Visual working memory (WM) is a limited capacity system which maintains information about objects in the immediate visual environment. Recent neurophysiological and neuroimaging studies have identified sustained memory-item specific activity during the retention period of WM tasks, and this activity may be a physiological substrate of maintaining representations in WM. In the present study, we present an electrophysiological measure of delay activity using event-related potentials (ERPs). Subjects were asked to remember the items in a single hemifield presented within a bilateral display. Approximately 200 msec following the onset of the memory array, we observed a large negative wave at electrode sites that were contralateral with respect to the position of the memory items. This activity persisted throughout the retention period and appears to be an analog to delay activity observed in monkey single-unit and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) WM studies. The contralateral delay activity is modulated by the number of items in the memory array but reaches asymptote for arrays of 3 to 4 items. This activity is similar across different classes of simple objects and the amplitude is smaller on incorrect response trials relative to correct trials, suggesting that this activity is necessary for correct performance on a given trial. Together, these results appear to indicate an electrophysiological index of the maintained representations in visual WM.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Fields / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*