A theory of working memory without consciousness or sustained activity

Abstract : Working memory and conscious perception are thought to share similar brain mechanisms, yet recent reports of non-conscious working memory challenge this view. Combining visual masking with magnetoencephalography, we investigate the reality of non-conscious working memory and dissect its neural mechanisms. In a spatial delayed-response task, participants reported the location of a subjectively unseen target above chance-level after several seconds. Conscious perception and conscious working memory were characterized by similar signatures: a sustained desynchronization in the alpha/beta band over frontal cortex, and a decodable representation of target location in posterior sensors. During non-conscious working memory, such activity vanished. Our findings contradict models that identify working memory with sustained neural firing, but are compatible with recent proposals of 'activity-silent' working memory. We present a theoretical framework and simulations showing how slowly decaying synaptic changes allow cell assemblies to go dormant during the delay, yet be retrieved above chance-level after several seconds.
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eLife, eLife Sciences Publication, 2017, 6, pp.e23871. 〈10.7554/eLife.23871〉
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Darinka Trübutschek, Sébastien Marti, Andrés Ojeda, Jean-Rémi King, Yuanyuan Mi, et al.. A theory of working memory without consciousness or sustained activity. eLife, eLife Sciences Publication, 2017, 6, pp.e23871. 〈10.7554/eLife.23871〉. 〈hal-01592962〉

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