Reframing the debate: The distributed systems view of working memory

Elizabeth S. Lorenc, Kartik K. Sreenivasan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In her recent Opinion, Xu argues that visual cortex is non-essential for visual working memory (WM) storage. In our response, we highlight some inconsistencies that undermine Xu’s claims and strengthen the notion that visual regions play a critical role in visual WM. Moreover, we contend that this framing of the debate ignores the larger point that WM storage is unlikely to be the purview of any single brain region. We outline a perspective that we term the “distributed systems view,” which considers WM–and storage in particular–to be distributed across multiple brain regions. This view is bolstered by evidence that a wide array of regions throughout the brain are involved in WM. Viewed in this light, the focus shifts from asking which regions are essential for WM and towards questions about how representations stored within each region complement one another, how they interact, and how they contribute to behaviour.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)416-424
Number of pages9
JournalVisual Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2021


  • Working memory
  • sensory recruitment
  • visual cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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