Both theoretical and experimental animal work supports the hypothesis that transient oscillatory synchronization of neuronal assemblies at gamma frequencies (30-100 Hz) is closely associated with sensory processing. Recent data from recordings in animals and humans have suggested that gamma-frequency activity also has an important role in attention and both working and long-term memory. The involvement of gamma-band synchronization in various cognitive paradigms in humans is currently being investigated using intracranial and high-density electro- and magnetoencephalography recordings. Here, we discuss recent findings demonstrating human gamma-frequency activity associated with attention and memory in both sensory and non-sensory areas. Because oscillatory gamma-frequency activity has an important role in neuronal communication and synaptic plasticity, it could provide a key for understanding neuronal processing in both local and distributed cortical networks engaged in complex cognitive functions. This review is part of the INMED/TINS special issue Physiogenic and pathogenic oscillations: the beauty and the beast, based on presentations at the annual INMED/TINS symposium (http://inmednet.com).