Suppression of no-longer relevant information in Working Memory: An alpha-power related mechanism?

Biol Psychol. 2018 May;135:112-116. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2018.03.009. Epub 2018 Mar 27.


Selective attention can enhance Working Memory (WM) performance by selecting relevant information, while preventing distracting items from encoding or from further maintenance. Alpha oscillatory modulations are a correlate of visuospatial attention. Specifically, an enhancement of alpha power is observed in the ipsilateral posterior cortex to the locus of attention, along with a suppression in the contralateral hemisphere. An influential model proposes that the alpha enhancement is functionally related to the suppression of information. However, whether ipsilateral alpha power represents a mechanism through which no longer relevant WM representations are inhibited has yet not been explored. Here we examined whether the amount of distractors to be suppressed during WM maintenance is functionally related to alpha power lateralized activity. We measure EEG activity while participants (N = 36) performed a retro-cue task in which the WM load was varied across the relevant/irrelevant post-cue hemifield. We found that alpha activity was lateralized respect to the locus of attention, but did not track post-cue irrelevant load. Additionally, non-lateralized alpha activity increased with post-cue relevant load. We propose that alpha lateralization associated to retro-cuing might be related to a general orienting mechanism toward relevant representation.

Keywords: Inhibition; Irrelevant information; Oscillations; Retro-cue; Selective attention; Working Memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alpha Rhythm / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Repression, Psychology
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Young Adult