Shared resources between visual attention and visual working memory are allocated through rhythmic sampling

Elio Balestrieri, Luca Ronconi, David Melcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Attention and visual working memory (VWM) are among the most theoretically detailed and empirically tested constructs in human cognition. Nevertheless, the nature of the interrelation between selective attention and VWM still presents a fundamental controversy: Do they rely on the same cognitive resources or not? The present study aims at disentangling this issue by capitalizing on recent evidence showing that attention is a rhythmic phenomenon, oscillating over short time windows. Using a dual-task approach, we combined a classic VWM task with a visual detection task in which we densely sampled detection performance during the time between the memory and the test array. Our results show that an increment in VWM load was related to reduced detection of near-threshold visual stimuli. Importantly, we observed an oscillatory pattern in detection at ~7.5 Hz in the low VWM load conditions, which decreased towards ~5 Hz in the high VWM load condition. These findings suggest that the frequency of this sampling rhythm changes according to the allocation of attentional resources to either the VWM or the detection task. This pattern of results is consistent with a central sampling attentional rhythm which allocates shared attentional resources both to the flow of external visual stimulation and to the internal maintenance of visual information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3040-3053
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • behavioral oscillations
  • capacity limits
  • dense sampling
  • dual task
  • visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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