Working memory representations in visual cortex mediate distraction effects

Grace E. Hallenbeck, Thomas C. Sprague, Masih Rahmati, Kartik K. Sreenivasan, Clayton E. Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although the contents of working memory can be decoded from visual cortex activity, these representations may play a limited role if they are not robust to distraction. We used model-based fMRI to estimate the impact of distracting visual tasks on working memory representations in several visual field maps in visual and frontoparietal association cortex. Here, we show distraction causes the fidelity of working memory representations to briefly dip when both the memorandum and distractor are jointly encoded by the population activities. Distraction induces small biases in memory errors which can be predicted by biases in neural decoding in early visual cortex, but not other regions. Although distraction briefly disrupts working memory representations, the widespread redundancy with which working memory information is encoded may protect against catastrophic loss. In early visual cortex, the neural representation of information in working memory and behavioral performance are intertwined, solidifying its importance in visual memory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4714
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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