[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Many cognitive processes depend on our ability to hold information in mind, often well beyond the offset of the original sensory input. The capacity of this visual short-term memory (VSTM) is limited to around three to four items. Recent research has demonstrated that the content of VSTM can be modulated by top-down attentional biases. This has been demonstrated using retrodictive spatial cues, termed "retro-cues," which orient subjects' attention to spatial locations within VSTM. In the present article, we tested whether the use of these cues is modulated by memory load and cue delay. There are a number of important conclusions: (1) Top-down biases can operate on very brief iconic traces as well as on older VSTM representations (Exp. 1). (2) When operating within capacity, subjects use the cue to prioritise where they initiate their memory search, rather than to discard uncued items (Exps. 2 and 3). (3) When capacity is exceeded, there is little benefit to top-down biasing relative to a neutral condition; however, unattended items are lost, with there being a substantial cost of invalid spatial cueing (Exp. 3). (4) These costs and benefits of orienting spatial attention differ across iconic memory and VSTM representations when VSTM capacity is exceeded (Exp. 4).
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Human perception is highly flexible and adaptive. Selective processing is tuned dynamically according to current task goals and expectations to optimize behavior. Arguably, the major source of our expectations about events yet to unfold is our past experience; however, the ability of long-term memories to bias early perceptual analysis has remained untested. We used a noninvasive method with high temporal resolution to record neural activity while human participants detected visual targets that appeared at remembered versus novel locations within naturalistic visual scenes. Upon viewing a familiar scene, spatial memories changed oscillatory brain activity in anticipation of the target location. Memory also enhanced neural activity during early stages of visual analysis of the target and improved behavioral performance. Both measures correlated with subsequent target-detection performance. We therefore demonstrated that memory can directly enhance perceptual functions in the human brain.
Journal of Neuroscience 10/2011; 31(42):14952-60. · 6.91 Impact Factor
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Reliving past events and imagining potential future events engages a well-established "core" network of brain areas. How the brain constructs, or reconstructs, these experiences or scenes has been debated extensively in the literature, but remains poorly understood. Here we designed a novel task to investigate this (re)constructive process by directly exploring how naturalistic scenes are built up from their individual elements. We "slowed-down" the construction process through the use of auditorily presented phrases describing single scene elements in a serial manner. Participants were required to integrate these elements (ranging from three to six in number) together in their imagination to form a naturalistic scene. We identified three distinct sub-networks of brain areas, each with different fMRI BOLD response profiles, favouring specific points in the scene construction process. Areas including the hippocampus and retrosplenial cortex had a biphasic profile, activating when a single scene element was imagined and when 3 elements were combined together; regions including the intra-parietal sulcus and angular gyrus steadily increased activity from 1 to 3 elements; while activity in areas such as lateral prefrontal cortex was observed from the second element onwards. Activity in these sub-networks did not increase further when integrating more than three elements. Participants confirmed that three elements were sufficient to construct a coherent and vivid scene, and once this was achieved, the addition of further elements only involved maintenance or small changes to that established scene. This task offers a potentially useful tool for breaking down scene construction, a process that may be key to a range of cognitive functions such as episodic memory, future thinking and navigation.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Concepts lie at the very heart of intelligence, providing organizing principles with which to comprehend the world. Surprisingly little, however, is understood about how we acquire and deploy concepts. Here, we show that a functionally coupled circuit involving the hippocampus and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vMPFC) underpins the emergence of conceptual knowledge and its effect on choice behavior. Critically, the hippocampus alone supported the efficient transfer of knowledge to a perceptually novel setting. These findings provide compelling evidence that the hippocampus supports conceptual learning through the networking of discrete memories and reveal the nature of its interaction with downstream valuation modules such as the vMPFC. Our study offers neurobiological insights into the remarkable capacity of humans to discover the conceptual structure of related experiences and use this knowledge to solve exacting decision problems.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: The role of attentional orienting in daily life is to selectively deploy both behavioural and neural resources towards events, based on continually changing task goals and expectations, in order to optimize performance. In the following experiment, we show that attentional orienting is influenced by long-term memories in a perceptual discrimination task. In the learning phase, participants were trained on 120 ecologically valid natural scenes, of which 80 contained a target. Their task was to locate the target (a small key) on the screen by clicking on it with the mouse. One or two days later, participants completed a cued perceptual discrimination task. The same scenes that were studied before, but without any targets, were presented as cues (50 ms duration), followed, after a delay (450ms), by the scene again with or without the target (200ms). Participants discriminated covertly whether the key was present or absent from the second scene. There were three conditions: valid (key in learning and discrimination task was in same location), invalid (key in learning and discrimination task were in different location) and neutral (there was no key in learning phase). Behavioural results indicated that memory-guided attention benefits both the sensitivity (d’) and speed of target identification within natural scenes. A replication of the study is being carried out with event-related potentials to chart the neural modulations that accompany the perceptual enhancements observed behaviourally.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Recollecting autobiographical memories of personal past experiences is an integral part of our everyday lives and relies on a distributed set of brain regions. Their occurrence externally in the real world ('realness') and their self-relevance ('selfness') are two defining features of these autobiographical events. Distinguishing between personally experienced events and those that happened to other individuals, and between events that really occurred and those that were mere figments of the imagination, is clearly advantageous, yet the respective neural correlates remain unclear. Here we experimentally manipulated and dissociated realness and selfness during fMRI using a novel paradigm where participants recalled self (autobiographical) and non-self (from a movie or television news clips) events that were either real or previously imagined. Distinct sub-regions within dorsal and ventral medial prefrontal cortex, retrosplenial cortex and along the parieto-occipital sulcus preferentially coded for events (real or imagined) involving the self. By contrast, recollection of autobiographical events that really happened in the external world activated different areas within ventromedial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. In addition, recall of externally experienced real events (self or non-self) was associated with increased activity in areas of dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex. Taken together our results permitted a functional deconstruction of anterior (medial prefrontal) and posterior (retrosplenial cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus) cortical midline regions widely associated with autobiographical memory but whose roles have hitherto been poorly understood.
[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Attentional orienting and memory are intrinsically bound, but their interaction has rarely been investigated. Here we introduce an experimental paradigm using naturalistic scenes to investigate how long-term memory can guide spatial attention and thereby enhance identification of events in the perceptual domain. In the task, stable memories of objects embedded within complex scenes guide spatial orienting. We compared the behavioral effects and neural systems of memory-guided orienting with those in a more traditional attention-orienting task in which transient spatial cues guide attention. Memory-guided attention operated within surprisingly short intervals and conferred reliable and sizeable advantages for detection of objects embedded in scenes. Event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging showed that memory-guided attention involves the interaction between brain areas participating in retrieval of memories for spatial context with the parietal-frontal network for visual spatial orienting. Activity in the hippocampus was specifically engaged in memory-guided spatial attention and correlated with the ensuing behavioral advantage.