Top-down modulation: bridging selective attention and working memory

Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 Feb;16(2):129-35. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.11.014. Epub 2011 Dec 28.


Selective attention, the ability to focus our cognitive resources on information relevant to our goals, influences working memory (WM) performance. Indeed, attention and working memory are increasingly viewed as overlapping constructs. Here, we review recent evidence from human neurophysiological studies demonstrating that top-down modulation serves as a common neural mechanism underlying these two cognitive operations. The core features include activity modulation in stimulus-selective sensory cortices with concurrent engagement of prefrontal and parietal control regions that function as sources of top-down signals. Notably, top-down modulation is engaged during both stimulus-present and stimulus-absent stages of WM tasks; that is, expectation of an ensuing stimulus to be remembered, selection and encoding of stimuli, maintenance of relevant information in mind and memory retrieval.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology