Attentional demands predict short-term memory load response in posterior parietal cortex

Hagit Magen*, Tatiana Aloi Emmanouil, Stephanie A. McMains, Sabine Kastner, Anne Treisman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Limits to the capacity of visual short-term memory (VSTM) indicate a maximum storage of only 3 or 4 items. Recently, it has been suggested that activity in a specific part of the brain, the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), is correlated with behavioral estimates of VSTM capacity and might reflect a capacity-limited store. In three experiments that varied the delay period and the stimuli to be stored, we found dissociations between functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) activity in PPC and behavioral measures of capacity. When the delay length increased, fMRI activity in this area increased with memory load beyond the behaviorally determined limits of capacity. The results suggest that activity in PPC may reflect the attentional demands of short-term memory rehearsal processes rather than capacity limitations, and imply that a larger number of items than that determined by behavioral measures of capacity may be rehearsed during STM tasks. This account is consistent with the role of PPC in attentional processes and with the close correlation between brain areas that are involved in attention and those that mediate STM.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1790-1798
Number of pages9
Issue number8-9
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by grants to A.T. (NIH grant 2RO1 MH 058383, 1RO1 MH 062331) and to S.K. (1RO1 MH64043, 2P50 MH-62196).


  • FMRI
  • Memory capacity limits
  • Memory delay
  • Rehearsal
  • VSTM


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