Markers of preparatory attention predict visual short-term memory performance

Alexandra M. Murray, Anna C. Nobre, Mark G. Stokes

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Visual short-term memory (VSTM) is limited in capacity. Therefore, it is important to encode only visual information that is most likely to be relevant to behaviour. Here we asked which aspects of selective biasing of VSTM encoding predict subsequent memory-based performance. We measured EEG during a selective VSTM encoding task, in which we varied parametrically the memory load and the precision of recall required to compare a remembered item to a subsequent probe item. On half the trials, a spatial cue indicated that participants only needed to encode items from one hemifield. We observed a typical sequence of markers of anticipatory spatial attention: early attention directing negativity (EDAN), anterior attention directing negativity (ADAN), late directing attention positivity (LDAP); as well as of VSTM maintenance: contralateral delay activity (CDA). We found that individual differences in preparatory brain activity (EDAN/ADAN) predicted cue-related changes in recall accuracy, indexed by memory-probe discrimination sensitivity (d'). Importantly, our parametric manipulation of memory-probe similarity also allowed us to model the behavioural data for each participant, providing estimates for the quality of the memory representation and the probability that an item could be retrieved. We found that selective encoding primarily increased the probability of accurate memory recall; that ERP markers of preparatory attention predicted the cue-related changes in recall probability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1458-1465
Number of pages8
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes


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