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J Neurosci. 2012 Mar 7;32(10):3584-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6444-11.2012.

Visual working memory capacity and the medial temporal lobe.

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Departments of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Neurosciences, University of California, San Diego, California 92093, USA.


Patients with medial temporal lobe (MTL) damage are sometimes impaired at remembering visual information across delays as short as a few seconds. Such impairments could reflect either impaired visual working memory capacity or impaired long-term memory (because attention has been diverted or because working memory capacity has been exceeded). Using a standard change-detection task, we asked whether visual working memory capacity is intact or impaired after MTL damage. Five patients with hippocampal lesions and one patient with large MTL lesions saw an array of 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6 colored squares, followed after 3, 4, or 8 s by a second array where one of the colored squares was cued. The task was to decide whether the cued square had the same color as the corresponding square in the first array or a different color. At the 1 s delay typically used to assess working memory capacity, patients performed as well as controls at all array sizes. At the longer delays, patients performed as well as controls at small array sizes, thought to be within the capacity limit, and worse than controls at large array sizes, thought to exceed the capacity limit. The findings suggest that visual working memory capacity in humans is intact after damage to the MTL structures and that damage to these structures impairs performance only when visual working memory is insufficient to support performance.

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