Bethesda, Md. -- Researchers have long known that specific parts of the brain activate when people view particular images. For example, a region called the fusiform face area turns on when the eyes glance at faces, and another region called the parahippocampal place area does the same when a person looks at scenes or buildings. However, it's been unknown whether such specialization also exists for visual working memory, a category of memory that allows the brain to temporarily store and manipulate visual information for immediate tasks. Now, scientists have found evidence that visual working memory follows a more general pattern of brain activity than what researchers have shown with initial visual activity, instead activating a more diffuse area in the front of the brain for all categories of visual stimuli.
The study is entitled "Mapping Brain Activation and Information During Category-Specific Visual Working Memory." It appears in the Articles in PresS section of the Journal of Neurophysiology, published by the American Physiological Society.
The researchers worked with 18 healthy adults with normal or corrected vision. Using functional MRI (fMRI), a technique that examines brain activity while subjects are actively performing tasks in an MRI scanner, the researchers had each volunteer view and memorize three sequentially presented images that represented one of four categories: faces, bodies, scenes, or flowers. Between each image, there was a one second delay. Then, after a 10 second delay, the researchers flashed an image from the same category and asked the volunteers to indicate through a button press whether this last image matched one of the previous pictures (half of these "test" images matched one of the previous pictures). The volunteers did 80 of these trials, 20 of each category. To help make sure they weren't verbally memorizing what they were seeing, which might change the fMRI results, a radi
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American Physiological Society