Reactivation of latent working memories with transcranial magnetic stimulation

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Science  02 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6316, pp. 1136-1139
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah7011

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  • Neural Representations and Coding Theory
    • Michael Spezio, Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience, Scripps College, Claremont, CA 91711

    The recent report by Rose et al. (DOI: 10.1126/science.aah7011) is a thorough and well-done study of the neural coding of working memory. The study shows evidence that neural signals coding for items in working memory are preserved when those items remain potentially task-relevant, even when the items are not directly required by the task.

    However, there is a claim in the Abstract to the paper that is not reflected in the evidence presented. There is no evidence for the claim that "the active representation of an item in working memory drops to baseline when attention shifts away." This claim is repeated in the accompanying interpretive article in the same issue: "However, when subjects shift their attention toward something else, the neural representation of the now unattended item drops to baseline, as though the item has been forgotten."

    What the paper actually shows is that the performance of a classifier operating on a selected portion of the recorded EEG data, collected over thousands of trials, drops to baseline. This is not at all identical with, nor should it be interpreted as, the neural signals representing the item dropping to baseline. The confusion results from a lack of attention to measurement and coding theory, and to bridge laws in cognitive neuroscience. The result is a confused interpretation. There is no evidence that the brain's systems for working memory operate on the item's preserved neural signals in the...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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