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J Neurophysiol. 2009 Sep;102(3):1779-89. doi: 10.1152/jn.00179.2009. Epub 2009 Jul 8.

Practice-related improvement in working memory is modulated by changes in processing external interference.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, W. M. Keck Foundation Center for Integrative Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco, 600 16th St., Genentech Hall, MC2240 Rm. N472J, San Francisco, CA 94158, USA.


Working memory (WM) performance is impaired by the presence of external interference. Accordingly, more efficient processing of intervening stimuli with practice may lead to enhanced WM performance. To explore the role of practice on the impact that interference has on WM performance, we studied young adults with electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings as they performed three motion-direction, delayed-recognition tasks. One task was presented without interference, whereas two tasks introduced different types of interference during the interval of memory maintenance: distractors and interruptors. Distractors were to be ignored, whereas interruptors demanded attention based on task instructions for a perceptual discrimination. We show that WM performance was disrupted by both types of interference, but interference-induced disruption abated across a single experimental session through rapid learning. WM accuracy and response time improved in a manner that was correlated with changes in early neural measures of interference processing in visual cortex (i.e., P1 suppression and N1 enhancement). These results suggest practice-related changes in processing interference exert a positive influence on WM performance, highlighting the importance of filtering irrelevant information and the dynamic interactions that exist between neural processes of perception, attention, and WM during learning.

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