Training allows switching from limited-capacity manipulations to large-capacity perceptual processing

Tamar Malinovitch, Philippe Albouy, Robert J. Zatorre, Merav Ahissar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In contrast to perceptual tasks, which enable concurrent processing of many stimuli, working memory (WM) tasks have a very small capacity, limiting cognitive skills. Training on WM tasks often yields substantial improvement, suggesting that training might increase the general WM capacity. To understand the underlying processes, we trained a test group with a newly designed tone manipulation WM task and a control group with a challenging perceptual task of pitch pattern discrimination. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans confirmed that pretraining, manipulation was associated with a dorsal fronto-parietal WM network, while pitch comparison was associated with activation of ventral auditory regions. Training induced improvement in each group, which was limited to the trained task. Analyzing the behavior of the group trained with tone manipulation revealed that participants learned to replace active manipulation with a perceptual verification of the position of a single salient tone in the sequence presented as a tentative reply. Posttraining fMRI scans revealed modifications in ventral activation of both groups. Successful WMtrained participants learned to utilize auditory regions for the trained task. These observations suggest that the huge task-specific enhancement of WM capacity stems from a task-specific switch to perceptual routines, implemented in perceptual regions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1826-1842
Number of pages17
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


  • fMRI
  • frequency discrimination
  • perceptual learning
  • pitch pattern
  • stimuli manipulation


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