When Working Memory and Attention Compete: Characterizing the Dynamic Interdependence between our Mental Workspace and External Environment
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All of us are taxed with juggling our inner mental lives with immediate external task demands. For many years, the temporary maintenance of internal information was considered to be handled by a dedicated working memory (WM) system. It has recently become increasingly clear, however, that such short-term internal activation interacts with attention focused on external stimuli. It is unclear, however, exactly why these two interact, at what level of processing, and to what degree. Because our internal maintenance and external attention processes co-occur with one another, the manner of their interaction has vast implications for functioning in daily life. The work described here has employed original experimental paradigms combining WM and attention task elements, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to illuminate the associated neural processes, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to clarify the causal substrates of attentional brain function. These studies have examined a mechanism that might explain why (and when) the content of WM can involuntarily capture visual attention. They have, furthermore, tested whether fundamental attentional selection processes operate within WM, and whether they are reciprocal with attention. Finally, they have illuminated the neural consequences of competing attentional demands. The findings indicate that WM shares representations, operating principles, and cognitive resources with externally-oriented attention.
DepartmentPsychology and Neuroscience
transcranial magnetic stimulation
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