Peterson DJ, Gurariy G, Dimotsantos GG, Arciniega H, Berryhill ME, Caplovitz GP (2014). The steadystate visual evoked potential reveals neural correlates of the items encoded into visual working memory. Neuropsychologia, 63, 145-153.
[ DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.08.020. PMCID: PMC4194158. ]
Visual working memory (VWM) capacity limitations are estimated to be 4 items. Yet, it remains unclear why certain items from a given memory array may be successfully retrieved from VWM and others are lost. Existing measures of the neural correlates of VWM cannot address this question because they measure the aggregate processing of the entire stimulus array rather than neural signatures of individual items. Moreover, this cumulative processing is usually measured during the delay period, thereby reflecting the allocation of neural resources during VWM maintenance. Here, we use the steadystate visual evoked potential (SSVEP) to identify the neural correlates of individual stimuli at VWM encoding and test two distinct hypotheses: the focused-resource hypothesis and the diffuse-resource hypothesis, for how the allocation of neural resources during VWM encoding may contribute to VWM capacity limitations. First, we found that SSVEP amplitudes were larger for stimuli that were later remembered than for items that were subsequently forgotten. Second, this pattern generalized so that the SSVEP amplitudes were also larger for the unprobed stimuli in correct compared to incorrect trials. These data are consistent with the diffuse-resource view in which attentional resources are broadly allocated across the whole stimulus array. These results illustrate the important role encoding mechanisms play in limiting the capacity of VWM.