Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Combining high-density scalp EEG recordings with a sensitive analog measure of STM's fidelity, we characterized the temporal dynamics of intentional ignoring and related those dynamics to the intrusion of task-irrelevant information. On each trial of the task, two study Gabors were briefly presented in succession. A green or red disc preceding each Gabor signified whether that Gabor should be remembered or ignored, respectively. With cue–stimulus intervals of 300, 600, or 900 msec presented in separate sessions, we found that the onset of posterior, prestimulus alpha oscillations varied with the length of the interval. Although stimulus onset time was entirely predictable, the longer the cue–stimulus interval, the earlier the increase in prestimulus alpha power. However, the alpha-band modulation was not simply locked to the cue offset. The temporal envelopes of posterior alpha-band modulation were strikingly similar for both cued attending and cued ignoring and differed only in magnitude. This similarity suggests that cued attending includes suppression of task-irrelevant, spatial processing. Supporting the view that alpha-band oscillations represent inhibition, our graded measure of recall revealed that, when the stimulus to be ignored appears second in the sequence, peristimulus alpha power predicted the degree to which that irrelevant stimulus distorted subsequent recall of the stimulus that was to be remembered. These results demonstrate that timely deployment of attention-related alpha-band oscillations can aid STM by filtering out task-irrelevant information.