Eye movements disrupt EEG alpha-band coding of behaviorally relevant and irrelevant spatial locations held in working memory


Oscillations in the alpha frequency band (∼8–12 Hz) of the human electroencephalogram play an important role in supporting selective attention to visual items and maintaining their spatial locations in working memory (WM). Recent findings suggest that spatial information maintained in alpha is modulated by interruptions to continuous visual input, such that attention shifts, eye closure, and backward masking of the encoded item cause reconstructed representations of remembered locations to become degraded. Here, we investigated how another common visual disruption—eye movements—modulates reconstructions of behaviorally relevant and irrelevant item locations held in WM. Participants completed a delayed estimation task, where they encoded and recalled either the location or color of an object after a brief retention period. During retention, participants either fixated at the center or executed a sequence of eye movements. Electroencephalography (EEG) was recorded at the scalp and eye position was monitored with an eye tracker. Inverted encoding modeling (IEM) was applied to reconstruct location-selective responses across multiple frequency bands during encoding and retention. Location-selective responses were successfully reconstructed from alpha activity during retention where participants fixated at the center, but these reconstructions were disrupted during eye movements. Recall performance decreased during eye-movements conditions but remained largely intact, and further analyses revealed that under specific task conditions, it was possible to reconstruct retained location information from lower frequency bands (1–4 Hz) during eye movements. These results suggest that eye movements disrupt maintained spatial information in alpha in a manner consistent with other acute interruptions to continuous visual input, but this information may be represented in other frequency bands.

ICB Affiliated Authors

Tom Bullock, Kamryn Pickett, Anabel Salimian, Caitlin Gregory, Mary H. MacLean, and Barry Giesbrecht
Peer-Reviewed Article
Journal of Neurophysiology