In the current study, we tested whether representations in visual STM (VSTM) can be biased via top-down attentional modulation of visual activity in retinotopically specific locations. We manipulated attention using retrospective cues presented during the retention interval of a VSTM task. Retrospective cues triggered activity in a large-scale network implicated in attentional control and led to retinotopically specific modulation of activity in early visual areas V1-V4. Importantly, shifts of attention during VSTM maintenance were associated with changes in functional connectivity between pFC and retinotopic regions within V4. Our findings provide new insights into top-down control mechanisms that modulate VSTM representations for flexible and goal-directed maintenance of the most relevant memoranda.
Attention is important for effectively comparing incoming perceptual information with the contents of visual short-term memory (VSTM), such that any differences can be detected. However, how attentional mechanisms operate upon these comparison processes remains largely unknown. Here we investigate the underlying neural mechanisms by which attention modulates the comparisons between VSTM and perceptual representations using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Participants performed a cued change detection task. Spatial cues were presented to orient their attention either to the location of an item in VSTM prior to its comparison (retro-cues), or simultaneously (simultaneous-cues) with the probe array. A no-cue condition was also included. When attention cannot be effectively deployed in advance (i.e. following the simultaneous-cues), we observed a distributed and extensive activation pattern in the prefrontal and parietal cortices in support of successful change detection. This was not the case when participants can deploy their attention in advance (i.e. following the retro-cues). The region-of-interest analyses confirmed that neural responses for successful change detection versus correct rejection in the visual and parietal regions were significantly different for simultaneous-cues compared to retro-cues. Importantly, we found enhanced functional connectivity between prefrontal and parietal cortices when detecting changes on the simultaneous-cue trials. Moreover, we demonstrated a close relationship between this functional connectivity and d' scores. Together, our findings elucidate the attentional and neural mechanisms by which items held in VSTM are compared with incoming perceptual information.
Selective attention biases the encoding and maintenance of representations in visual STM (VSTM). However, precise attentional mechanisms gating encoding and maintenance in VSTM and across development remain less well understood. We recorded EEG while adults and 10-year-olds used cues to guide attention before encoding or while maintaining items in VSTM. Known neural markers of spatial orienting to incoming percepts, that is, Early Directing Attention Negativity, Anterior Directing Attention Negativity, and Late Directing Attention Positivity, were examined in the context of orienting within VSTM. Adults elicited a set of neural markers that were broadly similar in preparation for encoding and during maintenance. In contrast, in children these processes dissociated. Furthermore, in children, individual differences in the amplitude of neural markers of prospective orienting related to individual differences in VSTM capacity, suggesting that children with high capacity are more efficient at selecting information for encoding into VSTM. Finally, retrospective, but not prospective, orienting in both age groups elicited the well-known marker of visual search (N2pc), indicating the recruitment of additional neural circuits when orienting during maintenance. Developmental and individual differences differentiate seemingly similar processes of orienting to perceptually available representations and to representations held in VSTM.
Recognition of both faces and Chinese characters is commonly believed to rely on configural information. While faces typically exhibit behavioral and N170 inversion effects that differ from non-face stimuli (Rossion, Joyce, Cottrell, & Tarr, 2003), the current study examined whether a similar reliance on configural processing may result in similar inversion effects for faces and Chinese characters. Participants were engaged in an orientation judgment task (Experiment 1) and a one-back identity matching task (Experiment 2). Across two experiments, the N170 was delayed and enhanced in magnitude for upside-down faces and compound Chinese characters, compared to upright stimuli. The inversion effects for these two stimulus categories were bilateral for latency and right-lateralized for amplitudes. For simple Chinese characters, only the latency inversion effects were significant. Moreover, the size of the right-hemisphere inversion effects in N170 amplitude was larger for faces than Chinese characters. These findings show the N170 inversion effects from non-face stimuli closely parallel effects seen with faces. Face-like N170 inversion effects elicited by Chinese compound characters were attributed to the difficulty of part-whole integration as well as the disrupted regularity in relational information due to inversion. Hemispheric difference in Chinese character processing is also discussed.
Recent studies have shown that selective attention is of considerable importance for encoding task-relevant items into visual short-term memory (VSTM) according to our behavioral goals. However, it is not known whether top-down attentional biases can continue to operate during the maintenance period of VSTM. We used ERPs to investigate this question across two experiments. Specifically, we tested whether orienting attention to a given spatial location within a VSTM representation resulted in modulation of the contralateral delay activity (CDA), a lateralized ERP marker of VSTM maintenance generated when participants selectively encode memory items from one hemifield. In both experiments, retrospective cues during the maintenance period could predict a specific item (spatial retrocue) or multiple items (neutral retrocue) that would be probed at the end of the memory delay. Our results revealed that VSTM performance is significantly improved by orienting attention to the location of a task-relevant item. The behavioral benefit was accompanied by modulation of neural activity involved in VSTM maintenance. Spatial retrocues reduced the magnitude of the CDA, consistent with a reduction in memory load. Our results provide direct evidence that top-down control modulates neural activity associated with maintenance in VSTM, biasing competition in favor of the task-relevant information.
We investigated the neural correlates of attentional modulation in the perceptual comparison process for detecting feature-binding changes in an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment. Participants performed a variant of a cued change detection task. They viewed a memory array, a spatial retro-cue, and later a probe array. Their task was to judge whether the cued item had changed between the two arrays. Change type was manipulated to be a color-location binding or a color feature change. The retro-cue onset time in the retention interval was manipulated to be early or late. As a consequence of strong inter-item competition, we found strong prefrontal activation for late cues when contrasting the binding-change with the color-change condition. In contrast, we observed a comparable behavioral and neural effect between the two types of change detection when retro-cue was presented early. More importantly, we demonstrated a significant inter-regional correlation between the prefrontal and parietal regions in both binding- and color-change conditions for late cues. In addition, extensive prefrontal-parietal-visual functional connectivity was showed for detecting binding changes in the late-cueing condition. These results support the critical role in prefrontal-parietal-visual functional coupling for resolving strong inter-item competition during the comparison process in the binding-change condition. We provide direct evidence that attention modulates neural activity associated with perceptual comparison, biasing competition in favour of the task-relevant information in order to detect binding changes.
Recent evidence has revealed that short-lived internal representations held in visual short-term memory (VSTM) can be modulated by top-down control via retrospective attention which impacts subsequent behavioral performance. However, the functional inter-regional interactions underlying these top-down modulatory effects are not fully characterized. Here we used event-related functional magnetic imaging to investigate whether the strength of functional connectivity between the frontal cortex and posterior visual areas varies with the efficacy of top-down modulation of memory traces. Top-down modulation was manipulated by the timing of retro-cuing (early or late) in a VSTM task. Univariate analyses revealed that more effective top-down modulation (early cueing vs. late cueing) increased activity in early visual areas. Importantly, coherency analyses revealed that top-down modulation produced stronger functional connectivity between frontal and posterior occipital regions. Also, participants with stronger functional connectivity exhibit better memory performance. These results suggest that augmented functional connectivity between frontal and posterior visual areas strengthens the VSTM representations of importance to behavioral goals.
Selecting an appropriate substitution model and deriving a tree topology for a given sequence set are essential in phylogenetic analysis. However, such time consuming, computationally intensive tasks rely on knowledge of substitution model theories and related expertise to run through all possible combinations of several separate programs. To ensure a thorough and efficient analysis and avert tedious manipulations of various programs, this work presents an intuitive framework, the phylogenetic reconstruction with automatic likelihood model selectors (PALM), with convincing, updated algorithms and a best-fit model selection mechanism for seamless phylogenetic analysis.
Recent studies have revealed that the internal representations that we construct from the environment and maintain in visual short-term memory (VSTM) to guide behavior are highly flexible and can be selectively modulated according to our task goals and expectations. In the current study, we conducted two experiments to compare and contrast neural mechanisms of selective attention related to searching for target items within perceptual versus VSTM representations. We used event-related potentials to investigate whether searching for relevant target items from within VSTM representations involves spatially specific biasing of neural activity in a manner analogous to that which occurs during visual search for target items in perceptual arrays. The results, replicated across the two experiments, revealed that selection of a target object within a search array maintained in VSTM proceeds through a similar mechanism as that in the perceptual domain. In line with previous results, N2pc potentials were obtained when targets were identified within a perceptual visual-search array. Interestingly, equivalent N2pcs, with similar time courses and scalp distributions, were also elicited when target items were identified within a VSTM representation. The findings reinforce the notion of highly flexible VSTM representations that can be modulated according to task goals and suggest a large degree of overlap in the spatially specific neural mechanisms of target selection across the perceptual and VSTM domains.
Our representation of the visual world can be modulated by spatially specific attentional biases that depend flexibly on task goals. We compared searching for task-relevant features in perceived versus remembered objects. When searching perceptual input, selected task-relevant and suppressed task-irrelevant features elicited contrasting spatiotopic ERP effects, despite them being perceptually identical. This was also true when participants searched a memory array, suggesting that memory had retained the spatial organization of the original perceptual input and that this representation could be modulated in a spatially specific fashion. However, task-relevant selection and task-irrelevant suppression effects were of the opposite polarity when searching remembered compared to perceived objects. We suggest that this surprising result stems from the nature of feature- and object-based representations when stored in visual short-term memory. When stored, features are integrated into objects, meaning that the spatially specific selection mechanisms must operate upon objects rather than specific feature-level representations.
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