Reevaluating the Sensory Account of Visual Working Memory Storage

Trends Cogn Sci. 2017 Oct;21(10):794-815. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2017.06.013. Epub 2017 Jul 31.


Recent human fMRI pattern-decoding studies have highlighted the involvement of sensory areas in visual working memory (VWM) tasks and argue for a sensory account of VWM storage. In this review, evidence is examined from human behavior, fMRI decoding, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) studies, as well as from monkey neurophysiology studies. Contrary to the prevalent view, the available evidence provides little support for the sensory account of VWM storage. Instead, when the ability to resist distraction and the existence of top-down feedback are taken into account, VWM-related activities in sensory areas seem to reflect feedback signals indicative of VWM storage elsewhere in the brain. Collectively, the evidence shows that prefrontal and parietal regions, rather than sensory areas, play more significant roles in VWM storage.

Keywords: VWM maintenance; visual information processing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*