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

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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Figure 1: Trial design.
Figure 2: Behavioural performance and IPS/IOS response functions in VSTM and IM experiments.
Figure 3: Brain activation time courses.
Figure 4: Response time courses during the encoding, maintenance and retrieval phases of a VSTM task with extended retention interval (9,200 ms).

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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.

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Correspondence to René Marois.

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Todd, J., Marois, R. Capacity limit of visual short-term memory in human posterior parietal cortex. Nature 428, 751–754 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02466

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