At the intersection of attention and memory: the mechanistic role of the posterior parietal lobe in working memory

Neuropsychologia. 2011 Apr;49(5):1306-1315. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.033. Epub 2011 Feb 21.


Portions of the posterior parietal cortex (PPC) play a role in working memory (WM) yet the precise mechanistic function of this region remains poorly understood. The pure storage hypothesis proposes that this region functions as a short-lived modality-specific memory store. Alternatively, the internal attention hypothesis proposes that the PPC functions as an attention-based storage and refreshing mechanism deployable as an alternative to material-specific rehearsal. These models were tested in patients with bilateral PPC lesions. Our findings discount the pure storage hypothesis because variables indexing storage capacity and longevity were not disproportionately affected by PPC damage. Instead, our data support the internal attention account by showing that (a) normal participants tend to use a rehearsal-based WM maintenance strategy for recall tasks but not for recognition tasks; (b) patients with PPC lesions performed normally on WM tasks that relied on material-specific rehearsal strategies but poorly on WM tasks that relied on attention-based maintenance strategies and patient strategy usage could be shifted by task or instructions; (c) patients' memory deficits extended into the long-term domain. These findings suggest that the PPC maintains or shifts internal attention among the representations of items in WM.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / pathology*
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Vocabulary
  • Young Adult