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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 1997, Vol. 9, No. 6, Pages 743-757
(doi: 10.1162/jocn.1997.9.6.743)
© 1997 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Effects of Memory Load and Distraction on Performance and Event-Related Slow Potentials in a Visuospatial Working Memory Task
Article PDF (1.41 MB)

Brain electrical activity related to working memory was recorded at 15 scalp electrodes during a visuospatial delayed response task. Participants (N = 18) touched the remembered position of a target on a computer screen after either a 1 or 8 sec delay. These memory trials were compared to sensory trials in which the target remained present throughout the delay and response periods. Distractor stimuli identical to the target were briefly presented during the delay on 30% of trials. Responses were less accurate in memory than sensory trials, especially after the long delay. During the delay slow potentials developed that were significantly more negative in memory than sensory trials. The difference between memory and sensory trials was greater at anterior than posterior electrodes. On trials with distractors, the slow potentials generated by memory trials showed further enhancement of negativity, whereas there were minimal effects on accuracy of performance. The results provide evidence that engagement of visuospatial working memory generates slow wave negativity with a timing and distribution consistent with frontal activation. Enhanced brain activity associated with working memory is required to maintain performance in the presence of distraction.