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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

December 2019, Vol. 31, No. 12, Pages 1933-1945
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_01461)
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Working Memory Capacity Is Negatively Associated with Memory Load Modulation of Alpha Oscillations in Retention of Verbal Working Memory
Article PDF (769.34 KB)
Working memory capacity (WMC) measures the amount of information that can be maintained online in the face of distraction. Past work has shown that the efficiency with which the frontostriatal circuit filters out task-irrelevant distracting information is positively correlated with WMC. Recent work has demonstrated a role of posterior alpha oscillations (8–13 Hz) in providing a sensory gating mechanism. We investigated the relationship between memory load modulation of alpha power and WMC in two verbal working memory experiments. In both experiments, we found that posterior alpha power increased with memory load during memory, in agreement with previous reports. Across individuals, the degree of alpha power modulation by memory load was negatively associated with WMC, namely, the higher the WMC, the less alpha power was modulated by memory load. After the administration of topiramate, a drug known to affect alpha oscillations and have a negative impact on working memory function, the negative correlation between memory load modulation of alpha power and WMC was no longer statistically significant but still somewhat detectable. These results suggest that (1) individuals with low WMC demonstrate stronger alpha power modulation by memory load, reflecting possibly an increased reliance on sensory gating to suppress task-irrelevant information in these individuals, in contrast to their high WMC counterparts who rely more on frontal areas to perform this function and (2) this negative association between memory load modulation of alpha oscillations and WMC is vulnerable to drug-related cognitive disruption.