Letter

Capacity limit of visual short-term memory in human posterior parietal cortex

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Abstract

At any instant, our visual system allows us to perceive a rich and detailed visual world. Yet our internal, explicit representation of this visual world is extremely sparse: we can only hold in mind a minute fraction of the visual scene1,2. These mental representations are stored in visual short-term memory (VSTM). Even though VSTM is essential for the execution of a wide array of perceptual and cognitive functions3,4,5, and is supported by an extensive network of brain regions6,7,8,9, its storage capacity is severely limited10,11,12,13. With the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show here that this capacity limit is neurally reflected in one node of this network: activity in the posterior parietal cortex is tightly correlated with the limited amount of scene information that can be stored in VSTM. These results suggest that the posterior parietal cortex is a key neural locus of our impoverished mental representation of the visual world.

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Acknowledgements

We thank I. Gauthier, M. Chun, G. Logan and J. Schall for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, and D. Nikolaiczyk-Stocks and A. Snyder for expert technical assistance. This work was supported by a grant from the NSF to R.M.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Vanderbilt Vision Research Center, Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, 530 Wilson Hall, Nashville, Tennessee 37203, USA

    • J. Jay Todd
    •  & René Marois

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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to René Marois.

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