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Dissociable neural mechanisms underlie currently-relevant, future-relevant, and discarded working memory representations


In daily life, we use visual working memory (WM) to guide our actions. While attending to currently-relevant information, we must simultaneously maintain future-relevant information, and discard information that is no longer relevant. However, the neural mechanisms by which unattended, but future-relevant, information is maintained in working memory, and future-irrelevant information is discarded, are not well understood. Here, we investigated representations of these different information types, using functional magnetic resonance imaging in combination with multivoxel pattern analysis and computational modeling based on inverted encoding model simulations. We found that currently-relevant WM information in the focus of attention was maintained through representations in visual, parietal and posterior frontal brain regions, whereas deliberate forgetting led to suppression of the discarded representations in early visual cortex. In contrast, future-relevant information was neither inhibited nor actively maintained in these areas. These findings suggest that different neural mechanisms underlie the WM representation of currently- and future-relevant information, as compared to information that is discarded from WM.

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