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Distractor-resistant short-term memory is supported by transient changes in neural stimulus representations

Derrfuss, Jan; Ekman, Matthias; Hanke, Michael; Tittgemeyer, Marc; Fiebach, Christian J.


Matthias Ekman

Michael Hanke

Marc Tittgemeyer

Christian J. Fiebach


Goal-directed behavior in a complex world requires the maintenance of goal-relevant information despite multiple sources of distraction. However, the brain mechanisms underlying distractor-resistant working or short-term memory (STM) are not fully understood. While early single-unit recordings in monkeys and fMRI studies in humans pointed to an involvement of lateral prefrontal cortices, more recent studies highlighted the importance of posterior cortices for the active maintenance of visual information also in the presence of distraction. Here, we used a delayed match-to-sample task and multivariate searchlight analyses of fMRI data to investigate STM maintenance across three extended delay phases. Participants maintained two samples (either faces or houses) across an unfilled pre-distractor delay, a distractor-filled delay, and an unfilled post-distractor delay. STM contents (faces vs. houses) could be decoded above-chance in all three delay phases from occipital, temporal, and posterior parietal areas. Classifiers trained to distinguish face vs. house maintenance successfully generalized from preto post-distraction delays and vice versa, but not to the distractor delay period. Furthermore, classifier performance in all delay phases was correlated with behavioral performance in house, but not face trials. Our results demonstrate the involvement of distributed posterior, but not lateral prefrontal, cortices in active maintenance during and after distraction. They also show that the neural code underlying STM maintenance is transiently changed in the presence of distractors, and re instated after distraction. The correlation with behavior suggests that active STM maintenance is particularly relevant in house trials, whereas face trials might rely more strongly on contributions from long-term memory.


Derrfuss, J., Ekman, M., Hanke, M., Tittgemeyer, M., & Fiebach, C. J. (2017). Distractor-resistant short-term memory is supported by transient changes in neural stimulus representations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 29(9),

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 6, 2017
Online Publication Date Jul 27, 2017
Publication Date Sep 1, 2017
Deposit Date Apr 10, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jul 27, 2017
Journal Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Print ISSN 0898-929X
Electronic ISSN 1530-8898
Publisher Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 29
Issue 9
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