There is mounting evidence that prefrontal cortex (PFC) is activated during mnemonic operations such as working memory maintenance and also during response-related operations. In the current study, we examine the neural organization of mnemonic and response operations with respect to each other within PFC. Stimulus-evoked and sustained functional MRI activity was recorded during performance of a mental calculation task. The presence or absence of mnemonic and response demands was manipulated in a 2 x 2 factorial design with conditions requiring: (1) memory encoding and maintenance (M+); (2) response selection and execution (R+); (3) encoding, maintenance, and response execution (M+R+); (4) neither mnemonic nor response-related processes (M-R-). The first step of the analyses identified PFC voxels exhibiting differential activity during (M+) vs. (R+) trials. Within these voxels, we then examined activity during multiple phases of (M+R+) trials. Greater stimulus-evoked and sustained activity was observed within the anterior extent of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 46) during R+ vs. M+ trials. In contrast, greater activity was observed in the posterior extent of dorsolateral PFC during M+ vs. R+ trials. Importantly, both regions were activated during (M+R+) trials. Activity levels during all of these conditions exceeded levels observed during (M-R-) control trials. These results suggest that integrative functions of PFC that allow past information to guide future actions may emerge from communication between discrete subregions supporting mnemonic and response operations.
Several authors have argued that because mindfulness training involves repeated practice of the self-regulation of attention, it should lead to measurable improvements in attentional skills and related memory processes. Although a few studies have shown relationships between mindfulness training and performance-based tests of attention and memory, findings are mixed. In the present study, a sample of 33 adults with a long-term mindfulness meditation practice (average duration of 6 years) was compared with a demographically matched sample of nonmeditators on several widely used tests of attention and memory functioning, including sustained attention, attention switching, inhibition of elaborative processing, working memory, and short- and long-term memory. Group differences were nonsignificant for all of the attentional tasks. The only significant group differences were in short-term memory (both free and cued recall) and long-term memory (free recall only). Results suggest that the nature of the attentional and memory processing that is cultivated by mindfulness training requires clarification.
Individuals with fragile X syndrome (FXS) commonly display characteristics of social anxiety, including gaze aversion, increased time to initiate social interaction, and difficulty forming meaningful peer relationships. While neural correlates of face processing, an important component of social interaction, are altered in FXS, studies have not examined whether social anxiety in this population is related to higher cognitive processes, such as memory. This study aimed to determine whether the neural circuitry involved in face encoding was disrupted in individuals with FXS, and whether brain activity during face encoding was related to levels of social anxiety. A group of 11 individuals with FXS (5 M) and 11 age- and gender-matched control participants underwent fMRI scanning while performing a face encoding task with online eye-tracking. Results indicate that compared to the control group, individuals with FXS exhibited decreased activation of prefrontal regions associated with complex social cognition, including the medial and superior frontal cortex, during successful face encoding. Further, the FXS and control groups showed significantly different relationships between measures of social anxiety (including gaze-fixation) and brain activity during face encoding. These data indicate that social anxiety in FXS may be related to the inability to successfully recruit higher level social cognition regions during the initial phases of memory formation.
Working memory (WM) comprises operations whose coordinated action contributes to our ability to maintain focus on goal-relevant information in the presence of distraction. The present study investigated the nature of distraction upon the neural correlates of WM maintenance operations by presenting task-irrelevant distracters during the interval between the memoranda and probes of a delayed-response WM task. The study used a region of interest (ROIs) approach to investigate the role of anterior (e.g., lateral and medial prefrontal cortex--PFC) and posterior (e.g., parietal and fusiform cortices) brain regions that have been previously associated with WM operations. Behavioral results showed that distracters that were confusable with the memorandum impaired WM performance, compared to either the presence of non-confusable distracters or to the absence of distracters. These different levels of distraction led to differences in the regional patterns of delay interval activity measured with event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In the anterior ROIs, dorsolateral PFC activation was associated with WM encoding and maintenance, and in maintaining a preparatory state, and ventrolateral PFC activation was associated with the inhibition of distraction. In the posterior ROIs, activation of the posterior parietal and fusiform cortices was associated with WM and perceptual processing, respectively. These findings provide novel evidence concerning the neural systems mediating the cognitive and behavioral responses during distraction, and places frontal cortex at the top of the hierarchy of the neural systems responsible for cognitive control.
Four U.S. sites formed a consortium to conduct a multisite study of fMRI methods. The primary purpose of this consortium was to examine the reliability and reproducibility of fMRI results. FMRI data were collected on healthy adults during performance of a spatial working memory task at four different institutions. Two sets of data from each institution were made available. First, data from two subjects were made available from each site and were processed and analyzed as a pooled data set. Second, statistical maps from five to eight subjects per site were made available. These images were aligned in stereotactic space and common regions of activation were examined to address the reproducibility of fMRI results when both image acquisition and analysis vary as a function of site. Our grouped and individual data analyses showed reliable patterns of activation in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and posterior parietal cortex during performance of the working memory task across all four sites. This multisite study, the first of its kind using fMRI data, demonstrates highly consistent findings across sites.
We investigate the hypothesis that those subregions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) found to support proactive interference resolution may also support delay-spanning distractor interference resolution. Ten subjects performed delayed-recognition tasks requiring working memory for faces or shoes during functional MRI scanning. During the 15-sec delay interval, task-irrelevant distractors were presented. These distractors were either all faces or all shoes and were thus either congruent or incongruent with the domain of items in the working memory task. Delayed-recognition performance was slower and less accurate during congruent than during incongruent trials. Our fMRI analyses revealed significant delay interval activity for face and shoe working memory tasks within both dorsal and ventral PFC. However, only ventral PFC activity was modulated by distractor category, with greater activity for congruent than for incongruent trials. Importantly, this congruency effect was only present for correct trials. In addition to PFC, activity within the fusiform face area was investigated. During face distraction, activity was greater for face relative to shoe working memory. As in ventrolateral PFC, this congruency effect was only present for correct trials. These results suggest that the ventrolateral PFC and fusiform face area may work together to support delay-spanning interference resolution.
Selective attention has been shown to bias sensory processing in favor of relevant stimuli and against irrelevant or distracting stimuli in perceptual tasks. Increasing evidence suggests that selective attention plays an important role during working memory maintenance, possibly by biasing sensory processing in favor of to-be-remembered items. In the current study, we investigated whether selective attention may also support working memory by biasing processing against irrelevant and potentially distracting information. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while subjects (n = 22) performed a delayed-recognition task for faces and shoes. The delay period was filled with face or shoe distractors. Behavioral performance was impaired when distractors were congruent with the working memory domain (e.g., face distractor during working memory for faces) relative to when distractors were incongruent with the working memory domain (e.g., face distractor during shoe working memory). If attentional biasing against distractor processing is indeed functionally relevant in supporting working memory maintenance, perceptual processing of distractors is predicted to be attenuated when distractors are more behaviorally intrusive relative to when they are nonintrusive. As such, we predicted that perceptual processing of distracting faces, as measured by the face-sensitive N170 ERP component, would be reduced in the context of congruent (face) working memory relative to incongruent (shoe) working memory. The N170 elicited by distracting faces demonstrated reduced amplitude during congruent versus incongruent working memory. These results suggest that perceptual processing of distracting faces may be attenuated due to attentional biasing against sensory processing of distractors that are most behaviorally intrusive during working memory maintenance.
For decades the importance of background situations has been documented across all areas of cognition. Nevertheless, theories of concepts generally ignore background situations, focusing largely on bottom-up, stimulus-based processing. Furthermore, empirical research on concepts typically ignores background situations, not incorporating them into experimental designs. A selective review of relevant literatures demonstrates that concepts are not abstracted out of situations but instead are situated. Background situations constrain conceptual processing in many tasks (e.g., recall, recognition, categorization, lexical decision, color naming, property verification, property generation) across many areas of cognition (e.g., episodic memory, conceptual processing, visual object recognition, language comprehension). A taxonomy of situations is proposed in which grain size, meaningfulness, and tangibility distinguish the cumulative situations that structure cognition hierarchically.
Four theories of the human conceptual system--semantic memory, exemplar models, feed-forward connectionist nets, and situated simulation theory--are characterized and contrasted on five dimensions. Empirical evidence is then reviewed for the situated simulation theory and conclusions are discussed. (Author/VWL)
We investigated the top-down influence of working memory (WM) maintenance on feedforward perceptual processing within occipito-temporal face processing structures. During event-related potential (ERP) recordings, subjects performed a delayed-recognition task requiring WM maintenance of faces or houses. The face-sensitive N170 component elicited by delay-spanning task-irrelevant grayscale noise probes was examined. If early feedforward perceptual activity is biased by maintenance requirements, the N170 ERP component elicited by probes should have a greater N170 amplitude response during face relative to house WM trials. Consistent with this prediction, N170 elicited by probes presented at the beginning, middle, and end of the delay interval was greater in amplitude during face relative to house WM. Thus, these results suggest that WM maintenance demands may modulate early feedforward perceptual processing for the entirety of the delay duration. We argue based on these results that temporally early biasing of domain-specific perceptual processing may be a critical mechanism by which WM maintenance is achieved.
Rats were implanted bilaterally with cannulae into the dorsal hippocampus and trained in a Pavlovian fear-conditioning paradigm. Four groups of rats were infused intra-cranially with 1-(5'-isoquinolinesulfonyl)-2-methylpiperazine (H7-dihydrochloride), a potent inhibitor of both protein kinase C (PKC) and cAMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA), at different time intervals in order to examine their involvement in the acquisition and consolidation of contextual fear memory. We demonstrate a significant consolidation deficit of long-term contextual fear-conditioning memory that is maximal when PKA and PKC are inhibited at 90 min post-training. These results suggest the existence of a critical time window, during which these enzymes must be activated for the consolidation of long-term memories.
Spatial working memory is a cognitive brain mechanism that enables the temporary maintenance and manipulation of spatial information. Recent neuroimaging and behavioral studies have led to the proposal that directed spatial attention is the mechanism by which location information is maintained in spatial working memory. Yet it is unclear whether attentional involvement is required throughout the period of active maintenance or is only invoked during discrete task-phases such as mnemonic encoding. In the current study, we aimed to track the time-course of attentional involvement during spatial working memory by recording event-related brain potentials (ERPs) from healthy volunteers. In Experiment 1, subjects performed a delayed-recognition task. Each trial began with the presentation of a brief stimulus (S1) that indicated the relevant location that subjects were to maintain in working memory. A 4.8-5.3 sec delay interval followed during which a single task-irrelevant probe was presented. The delay interval concluded with a test item (S2) to which subjects made a response indicating whether the S2-location was the same as the S1-memory location. To determine if attention was differentially engaged during discrete phases of the trial, task-irrelevant probes were presented early (400-800 msec following S1-offset) or late (2600-3000 msec following S1-offset) during the delay interval. Sensory-evoked ERPs (P1 and N1) elicited by these irrelevant probes showed attention-like modulations with greater amplitude responses for probes occurring at the S1-memory locations in comparison to probes presented at other locations. This pattern was obtained for both early- and late-delay probes. Probe-evoked activity during delayed-recognition trials was similar to activity observed when spatial attention was explicitly focused on a location in visual space (Experiment 2). These results are consistent with a model of spatial working memory in which perceptual level selective attention is utilized throughout the entire period of active maintenance to keep relevant spatial information in mind.
The Star Counting Test (SCT) has been developed to measure the regulatory function of attention. In a previous study it was shown that the SCT is suited for assessment of this attentional aspect with children. The present study concerns a more difficult version aimed at young adults. In the literature, the regulatory function of attention is increasingly stressed and it has been linked to working memory functioning. In order to further determine the validity of the SCT, performance was checked against two kinds of measures relating to working memory, i.e. Digit Span and Computational Span. These tasks both call for storage but differ in their claims on the processing component of working memory. Using confirmatory factor analysis substantial correlations were demonstrated with either of these measures. As expected, the correlations tended to rise with increasing demands on the processing component. Test scores were further compared with self-reported cognitive failures. No significant relation appeared to exist. The results are interpreted in terms of demands on the regulatory function of attention.
Working memory (WM) representations serve as templates that guide behavior, but the neural basis of these templates remains elusive. We tested the hypothesis that WM templates are maintained by biasing activity in sensoriperceptual neurons that code for features of items being held in memory. Neural activity was recorded using event-related potentials (ERPs) as participants viewed a series of faces and responded when a face matched a target face held in WM. Our prediction was that if activity in neurons coding for the features of the target is preferentially weighted during maintenance of the target, then ERP activity evoked by a nontarget probe face should be commensurate with the visual similarity between target and probe. Visual similarity was operationalized as the degree of overlap in visual features between target and probe. A face-sensitive ERP response was modulated by target-probe similarity. Amplitude was largest for probes that were similar to the target, and decreased monotonically as a function of decreasing target-probe similarity. These results indicate that neural activity is weighted in favor of visual features that comprise an actively held memory representation. As such, our findings support the notion that WM templates rely on neural populations involved in forming percepts of memory items.
Dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are well documented in conflict tasks, wherein competition from irrelevant stimulus attributes intensifies selection demands and leads to subsequent performance benefits. The current study investigated whether mnemonic demands, in a working memory (WM) task, can drive similar online control modifications. Demand levels (high vs. low) of WM maintenance (memory load of 2 items vs. 1 item) and delay-spanning distractor interference (confusable vs. not confusable with memoranda) were manipulated using a factorial design during a WM delayed-recognition task. Performance was best subsequent to trials in which both maintenance and distractor interference demands were high, followed by trials with high demand in either of these 2 control domains, and worst following trials with low demand in both domains. These results suggest that dynamic adjustments in cognitive control are not triggered exclusively by conflict-specific contexts but are also triggered by WM demands, revealing a putative mechanism by which this system configures itself for successful task performance.