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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

June 2008, Vol. 20, No. 6, Pages 989-1002
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.2008.20072)
© 2008 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Working Memory Load for Faces Modulates P300, N170, and N250r
Article PDF (272.74 KB)

We used event-related potential (ERP) methodology to examine neural activity associated with visual working memory (WM) for faces. There were two main goals. First, to extend previous findings of P300 load modulation to WM for faces. Second, to examine whether N170 and N250r are also influenced by WM load. Between one and four unfamiliar faces were simultaneously presented for memory encoding. After a 1-sec delay, a target face appeared, and participants had to judge whether this face was part of the previous face array. P300 amplitude decreased as WM load increased, and this P300 suppression was observed at both encoding and retrieval. WM load was also found to modulate other ERPs. The amplitude of the N170 elicited by the target face decreased with load, and this N170 decrease leveled off at load 2, reflecting the behavioral WM capacity of around two faces. In addition, the N250r, observed as an ERP difference for target faces that were present in the encoding array relative to target faces that were absent, was also reduced for higher WM loads. These findings extend previous work by showing that P300 modulation by WM load also occurs for faces. Furthermore, we show, for the first time, that WM load affects the N250r and the early visual N170 component. This suggests that higher visual areas play an important role in WM for faces.