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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

March 2015, Vol. 27, No. 3, Pages 583-592
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00726)
© 2015 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Modality-specific Alpha Modulations Facilitate Long-term Memory Encoding in the Presence of Distracters
Article PDF (792.8 KB)

It has been proposed that long-term memory encoding is not only dependent on engaging task-relevant regions but also on disengaging task-irrelevant regions. In particular, oscillatory alpha activity has been shown to be involved in shaping the functional architecture of the working brain because it reflects the functional disengagement of specific regions in attention and memory tasks. We here ask if such allocation of resources by alpha oscillations generalizes to long-term memory encoding in a cross-modal setting in which we acquired the ongoing brain activity using magnetoencephalography. Participants were asked to encode pictures while ignoring simultaneously presented words and vice versa. We quantified the brain activity during rehearsal reflecting subsequent memory in the different attention conditions. The key finding was that successful long-term memory encoding is reflected by alpha power decreases in the sensory region of the to-be-attended modality and increases in the sensory region of the to-be-ignored modality to suppress distraction during rehearsal period. Our results corroborate related findings from attention studies by demonstrating that alpha activity is also important for the allocation of resources during long-term memory encoding in the presence of distracters.