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Top-down Modulation of Visual Processing: Converging fMRI and ERP Evidence

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Frontiers in Psychology

Haline E. Schendan and Giorgio Ganis

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A core function of working memory (WM) involves attuning to task-relevant information and encoding this information, but WM is also crucial for ignoring task-irrelevant information. This study sought to determine how individuals’ ability to upregulate or downregulate visual activity during a WM task was impacted when their resources became more limited, such as when they are partially occupied by a non-visual working memory task. The study was conducted with 17 volunteers, aged 18-27, and used fMRI to measure the role of domain-general WM resources in the top-down attentional modulation of task-relevant and irrelevant visual representations. Testing involved a dual-task paradigm, where each trial began with an auditory presentation of either a high-load or low-load sequence of numbers to remember. A combination of relevant (e.g., images of faces) and irrelevant images were presented across a 7-second time span, and participants were asked to recall the relevant images and digits. Findings demonstrate that when taxed by high-load memory tasks, participants struggle to actively ignore the irrelevant information. Results suggest that a heavier load on working memory resources impairs one’s ability to filter out distracting information.

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Mark D’Esposito, MD

Distinguished BrainHealth Scientist Collaborator, The BrainHealth Project

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