Temporal expectation modulates the cortical dynamics of short-term memory

Anna Wilsch*, Molly J. Henry, Björn Herrmann, Christoph S. Herrmann, Jonas Obleser

*Corresponding author for this work


Increased memory load is often signified by enhanced neural oscillatory power in the alpha range (8–13 Hz), which is taken to reflect inhibition of task-irrelevant brain regions. The corresponding neural correlates of memory decay, however, are not yet well understood. In the current study, we investigated auditory short-term memory decay in humans using a delayed matching-to-sample task with pure-tone sequences. First, in a behavioral experiment, we modeled memory performance over six different delay-phase durations. Second, in a MEG experiment, we assessed alpha-power modulations over three different delay-phase durations. In both experiments, the temporal expectation for the to-be-remembered sound was manipulated so that it was either temporally expected or not. In both studies, memory performance declined over time, but this decline was weaker when the onset time of the to-be-remembered sound was expected. Similarly, patterns of alpha power in and alpha-tuned connectivity between sensory cortices changed parametrically with delay duration (i.e., decrease in occipitoparietal regions, increase in temporal regions). Temporal expectation not only counteracted alpha-power decline in heteromodal brain areas (i.e., supramarginal gyrus), but also had a beneficial effect on memory decay, counteracting memory performance decline. Correspondingly, temporal expectation also boosted alpha connectivity within attention networks known to play an active role during memory maintenance. The present data show how patterns of alpha power orchestrate short-term memory decay and encourage a more nuanced perspective on alpha power across brain space and time beyond its inhibitory role.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number34
Pages (from-to)7428-7439
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 22.08.2018

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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