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Working Memory Representations in Visual Cortex Mediate the Effects of Distraction

By Grace E Hallenbeck, Thomas C Sprague, Masih C Rahmati, Kartik K Sreenivasan, Clayton E Curtis

Posted 02 Feb 2021
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.02.01.429259

Although the contents of working memory (WM) can be decoded from activity in visual cortex, these representations may play a limited role if they are not robust to distraction. Here, we used model-based fMRI to estimate the impact that a distracting visual task had on WM representations in several visual field maps in visual and frontoparietal association cortex. Distraction caused the fidelity of WM representations in all maps to briefly dip when both the memorandum and distractor were jointly encoded by the population activities. Moreover, distraction induced small biases in memory errors which were predicted by biases in neural decoding in early visual cortex, but not other regions. Although distraction briefly disrupts WM representations, the widespread redundancy with which WM information is encoded may protect against catastrophic loss. In early visual cortex, nonetheless, the neural representation of information in WM and behavioral performance were intertwined, solidifying its importance in memory.

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