Event-related potential (ERP) measures reveal the timing of memory selection processes and proactive interference resolution in working memory.
ABSTRACT Behavioral studies show that no-longer-relevant information, although presumably removed from working memory (WM), still engenders proactive interference (PI). However, the timing of selecting items within WM and resolving PI is relatively unknown. To assess this, we recorded ERPs during WM from 20 young adults. In all conditions, a 4-digit display was followed by a cue indicating which digits to remember. In the selection condition, 2 digits were cued. The reaction time difference between the intrusion probe, a match of a to-be-rejected digit, and the non-intrusion probe, which did not match any of the 4 digits, was reliable, indicating a robust effect of PI. In the neutral-2 (remember 2 digits) and -4 (remember all 4) conditions, participants maintained the digits following the cue. Relative to neutral-4, selection elicited larger positivity at parietal sites (approximately 260ms) and negativity at frontal sites (approximately 420ms). Relative to the non-intrusion probe ERP, that to the intrusion probe was more negative over frontal scalp (approximately 500ms). We conclude that initial selection occurs over parietal cortex and reflects top-down attention to task relevant items, whereas the subsequent negativity may reflect inhibition of no-longer-relevant items over frontal cortex. The probe-locked ERPs suggest that the frontal negativity (approximately 500ms) reflects the final resolution of PI.