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Brain potentials before and during memory scanning


Brain potentials were recorded from 10 normal subjects engaged in a 3-item auditory verbal short-term memory task. A fixed interval (3 s) between the last memory item and the probe was compared to a random interval (1.8-4.2 s with a mean of 3 s). Subjects indicated by button press whether the probe was or was not a member of the memory-set. The same 3-item task was also presented as a counting task and required a button press to the "fourth stimulus' (the probe). The amplitudes of several slow potential shifts preceding and following the probe, and the amplitudes and latencies of the accompanying short duration components (N100, P200) were measured. When the probe appeared at a fixed interval, the amplitude of a slow negative potential in the 300 ms period preceding the probe was slightly larger in the memory than in the counting task. When the probe appeared at a random interval in the memory task, the slow negative shift preceding the probe was absent. Another slow negative shift that peaked at approximately 376 ms after the probe was present in the memory tasks but was absent in the counting task. The amplitude of a late positive shift that peaked at approximately 700 ms after the probe was not different within the memory tasks, or between the memory and counting tasks. N100 amplitude but not P200 amplitude was larger in the memory task when the probe occurred at a fixed than at a random interval. These results suggest that the amplitude of a slow negative shift preceding the probe was related primarily to a temporal expectancy for the appearance of the probe and to a lesser extent to memory processes. In contrast, a slow negative shift that followed the probe occurred only during the memory tasks.

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