Electrophysiological correlates of the fexible allocation of visual working memory resources
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AbstractVisual working memory is a brief, capacity-limited store of visual information that is involved in a large number of cognitive functions. To guide one’s behavior effectively, one must efficiently allocate these limited memory resources across memory items. Previous research has suggested that items are either stored in memory or completely blocked from memory access. However, recent behavioral work proposes that memory resources can be flexibly split across items based on their level of task importance. Here, we investigated the electrophysiological correlates of flexible resource allocation by manipulating the distribution of resources amongst systematically lateralized memory items. We examined the contralateral delay activity (CDA), a waveform typically associated with the number of items held in memory. Across three experiments, we found that, in addition to memory load, the CDA flexibly tracks memory resource allocation. This allocation occurred as early as attentional selection, as indicated by the N2pc. Additionally, CDA amplitude was better-described when fit with a continuous model predicted by load and resources together than when fit with either alone. Our findings show that electrophysiological markers of attentional selection and memory maintenance not only track memory load, but also the proportion of memory resources those items receive.