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Brain Imaging Behav. 2010 Mar;4(1):96-108. doi: 10.1007/s11682-010-9089-9.

Working memory overload: fronto-limbic interactions and effects on subsequent working memory function.

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Department of Psychiatry, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.


The human working memory system provides an experimentally useful model for examination of neural overload effects on subsequent functioning of the overloaded system. This study employed functional magnetic resonance imaging in conjunction with a parametric working memory task to characterize the behavioral and neural effects of cognitive overload on subsequent cognitive performance, with particular attention to cognitive-limbic interactions. Overloading the working memory system was associated with varying degrees of subsequent decline in performance accuracy and reduced activation of brain regions central to both task performance and suppression of negative affect. The degree of performance decline was independently predicted by three separate factors operating during the overload condition: the degree of task failure, the degree of amygdala activation, and the degree of inverse coupling between the amygdala and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These findings suggest that vulnerability to overload effects in cognitive functioning may be mediated by reduced amygdala suppression and subsequent amygdala-prefrontal interaction.

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