Visual Working Memory Maintenance in the Human Brain


Visual Working Memory Maintenance in the Human Brain.

Working memory (WM) is an essential capacity of the human brain. WM is our ability to maintain a small number of facts and figures, or instructions in our memory long enough for us to act on. For instance if you were visiting a new city on holiday and you ask a local for directions to the nearest shop, you would keep their directions in working memory long enough for you to find the shop. Without working memory we would have difficulties with a great number of everyday human actions, activities and tasks.

However, despite working memory being an essential ability in everyday life little is known about how the human brain maintains working memory. A recent study published in the journal NeuroImage has sought to understand how visual working memory (vWM) is maintained. Previous research has indicated that the prefrontal and parietal cortices play prominent roles in vWM. The regions that are involved in vWM are well documented, however little is known about spatio-temporal dynamic of activity change in and across these regions.

The current research into vWM used a relatively recent discovery of the Contalateral Delay Activity (CDA), an Event-related potential (ERP) that has been found to index the maintenance of object information in vWM. By combining magnetoencephalography (MEG) and the CDA component the researchers found that part of the CDA is generated in parietal cortex. The CDA component also had contributions from the ventral extrastriate cortex, an area that is crucial for visual processing. These results indicate that vWM involves the prefrontal, parietal and extrastriate cortices. The discovery of the CDA ERP component may yield important discoveries in the near future for understanding the neurological processing of working memory.

These findings with future research may help to gain some insight into the exact neurological underpinnings of WM in conditions that contain deficits of WM such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and schizophrenia. 

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Daniel Edgcumbe

I am studying towards my PhD in cognitive neuroscience at a leading London university

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