Multi-Voxel Decoding and the Topography of Maintained Information During Visual Working Memory

Front Syst Neurosci. 2016 Feb 15:10:2. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2016.00002. eCollection 2016.


The ability to maintain representations in the absence of external sensory stimulation, such as in working memory, is critical for guiding human behavior. Human functional brain imaging studies suggest that visual working memory can recruit a network of brain regions from visual to parietal to prefrontal cortex. In this review, we focus on the maintenance of representations during visual working memory and discuss factors determining the topography of those representations. In particular, we review recent studies employing multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) that demonstrate decoding of the maintained content in visual cortex, providing support for a "sensory recruitment" model of visual working memory. However, there is some evidence that maintained content can also be decoded in areas outside of visual cortex, including parietal and frontal cortex. We suggest that the ability to maintain representations during working memory is a general property of cortex, not restricted to specific areas, and argue that it is important to consider the nature of the information that must be maintained. Such information-content is critically determined by the task and the recruitment of specific regions during visual working memory will be both task- and stimulus-dependent. Thus, the common finding of maintained information in visual, but not parietal or prefrontal, cortex may be more of a reflection of the need to maintain specific types of visual information and not of a privileged role of visual cortex in maintenance.

Keywords: fMRI; multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA); short term memory; visual imagery; visual working memory; working memory.

Publication types

  • Review