Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
How does the brain maintain to-be-remembered information in working memory (WM), particularly when the focus of attention is drawn to processing other information? Cognitive models of WM propose that when items are displaced from focal attention recall involves retrieval from long-term memory (LTM). In this fMRI study, we tried to clarify the role of LTM in performance on a WM task and the type of representation that is used to maintain an item in WM during rehearsal-filled versus distractor-filled delays. Participants made a deep or shallow levels-of-processing (LOP) decision about a single word at encoding and tried to recall the word after a delay filled with either rehearsal of the word or a distracting math task. Recalling one word after 10 sec of distraction demonstrated behavioral and neural indices of retrieval from LTM (i.e., LOP effects and medial-temporal lobe activity). In contrast, recall after rehearsal activated cortical areas that reflected reporting the word from focal attention. In addition, areas that showed an LOP effect at encoding (e.g., left ventrolateral VLPFC and the anterior temporal lobes [ATLs]) were reactivated at recall, especially when recall followed distraction. Moreover, activity in left VLPFC during encoding, left ATL during the delay, and left hippocampus during retrieval predicted recall success after distraction. Whereas shallow LOP and rehearsal-related areas supported active maintenance of one item in focal attention, the behavioral processes and neural substrates that support LTM supported recall of one item after it was displaced from focal attention.