People often fail to notice a large change in the visual scene when the change occurs during a brief interruption of the viewing. Since the change is well above perceptual threshold in continuous viewing, the failure (termed change blindness) has been attributed to abnormal visual short-term memory (VSTM). However, it is still unclear where the abnormality lies among the phases in VSTM, namely, encoding, maintenance, and retrieval-comparison. EEG oscillations, especially the gamma activity, have been suggested as neural signatures of VSTM, but have not been examined in the context of change blindness. Thus, we asked in the present study whether change detection or failure is correlated with EEG oscillatory activities and, if so, whether the timing and the spatial distribution of the oscillations could pin-point the abnormal phase of VSTM in change blindness. While on EEG recording, subjects watched morphed pictures of human faces in trials which consisted of a 200-ms initial image display, a 500-ms blank period, and a 200-ms comparison image display. The two images were either the same or clearly different above threshold. Trials with different images were classified as hit or missed, based on subjects' responses, and EEG data were compared between the two types of trials. Enhanced gamma activity was observed in the right temporal-parietal region during all periods in the hit trials compared to the missed ones. Frontal theta activity was increased during initial image encoding, whereas beta activity was decreased during maintenance and retrieval-comparison in the hit trials. These results point to weak encoding of initial images as the culprit for a later failure in change detection, while abnormal processing in subsequent phases of VSTM may result from the weak encoding and also contribute to change blindness.
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