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Stimulus Load and Oscillatory Activity in Higher Cortex

Kornblith S, Buschman TJ, Miller EK

Cerebral Cortex, 2016. 26 (9): 3722-3784.

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Exploring and exploiting a rich visual environment requires perceiving, attending, and remembering multiple objects simultaneously. Recent studies have suggested that this mental “juggling” of multiple objects may depend on oscillatory neural dynamics. We recorded local field potentials from the lateral intraparietal area, frontal eye fields, and lateral prefrontal cortex while monkeys maintained variable numbers of visual stimuli in working memory. Behavior suggested independent processing of stimuli in each hemifield. During stimulus presentation, higher-frequency power (50–100 Hz) increased with the number of stimuli (load) in the contralateral hemifield, whereas lower-frequency power (8–50 Hz) decreased with the total number of stimuli in both hemifields. During the memory delay, lower-frequency power increased with contralateral load. Load effects on higher frequencies during stimulus encoding and lower frequencies during the memory delay were stronger when neural activity also signaled the location of the stimuli. Like power, higher-frequency synchrony increased with load, but beta synchrony (16–30 Hz) showed the opposite effect, increasing when power decreased (stimulus presentation) and decreasing when power increased (memory delay). Our results suggest roles for lower-frequency oscillations in top-down processing and higher-frequency oscillations in bottom-up processing.

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