Decoding the content of visual short-term memory under distraction in occipital and parietal areas

Nat Neurosci. 2016 Jan;19(1):150-7. doi: 10.1038/nn.4174. Epub 2015 Nov 23.


Recent studies have provided conflicting accounts regarding where in the human brain visual short-term memory (VSTM) content is stored, with strong univariate fMRI responses being reported in superior intraparietal sulcus (IPS), but robust multivariate decoding being reported in occipital cortex. Given the continuous influx of information in everyday vision, VSTM storage under distraction is often required. We found that neither distractor presence nor predictability during the memory delay affected behavioral performance. Similarly, superior IPS exhibited consistent decoding of VSTM content across all distractor manipulations and had multivariate responses that closely tracked behavioral VSTM performance. However, occipital decoding of VSTM content was substantially modulated by distractor presence and predictability. Furthermore, we found no effect of target-distractor similarity on VSTM behavioral performance, further challenging the role of sensory regions in VSTM storage. Overall, consistent with previous univariate findings, our results indicate that superior IPS, but not occipital cortex, has a central role in VSTM storage.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Occipital Lobe / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult