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Neurocognitive subprocesses of working memory performance.

  • Author(s): Lenartowicz, Agatha
  • Truong, Holly
  • Enriquez, Kristen D
  • Webster, Julia
  • Pochon, Jean-Baptiste
  • Rissman, Jesse
  • Bearden, Carrie E
  • Loo, Sandra K
  • Bilder, Robert M
  • et al.

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Working memory (WM) has been defined as the active maintenance and flexible updating of goal-relevant information in a form that has limited capacity and resists interference. Complex measures of WM recruit multiple subprocesses, making it difficult to isolate specific contributions of putatively independent subsystems. The present study was designed to determine whether neurophysiological indicators of proposed subprocesses of WM predict WM performance. We recruited 200 individuals defined by care-seeking status and measured neural responses using electroencephalography (EEG), while participants performed four WM tasks. We extracted spectral and time-domain EEG features from each task to quantify each of the hypothesized WM subprocesses: maintenance (storage of content), goal maintenance, and updating. We then used EEG measures of each subprocess as predictors of task performance to evaluate their contribution to WM. Significant predictors of WM capacity included contralateral delay activity and frontal theta, features typically associated with maintenance (storage of content) processes. In contrast, significant predictors of reaction time and its variability included contingent negative variation and the P3b, features typically associated with goal maintenance and updating. Broadly, these results suggest two principal dimensions that contribute to WM performance, tonic processes during maintenance contributing to capacity, and phasic processes during stimulus processing that contribute to response speed and variability. The analyses additionally highlight that reliability of features across tasks was greater (and comparable to that of WM performance) for features associated with stimulus processing (P3b and alpha), than with maintenance (gamma, theta and cross-frequency coupling).

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