Alpha-band desynchronization reflects memory-specific processes during visual change detection

Molly A. Erickson, Dillon Smith, Matthew A. Albrecht, Steven Silverstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Recent work investigating physiological mechanisms of working memory (WM) has revealed that modulation of alpha and beta frequency bands within the EEG plays a key role in WM storage. However, the nature of that role is unclear. In the present study, we examined event-related desynchronization of alpha and beta (α/β-ERD) elicited by visual tasks with and without a memory component to measure the impact of a WM demand on this electrophysiological marker. We recorded EEG from 60 healthy participants while they completed three variants on a typical change detection task: one in which participants passively viewed the sample array, passive (WM−); one in which participants viewed and attended the sample array in search of a target color but did not memorize the colors, active (WM−); and one in which participants encoded, attended to, and memorized the sample array, active (WM+). Replicating previous findings, we found that active (WM+) elicited robust α/β-ERD in frontal and posterior electrode clusters and that α-ERD was significantly associated with WM capacity. By contrast, α/β-ERD was significantly smaller in the passive (WM−) and active (WM−) tasks, which did not consistently differ from one another. Furthermore, no such relationship was observed between WM capacity and desynchronization in the passive (WM−) or active (WM−) tasks. Taken together, these results suggest that α-ERD during memory formation reflects a memory-specific process such as consolidation or maintenance, rather than serving a generalized role in perceptual gating or engagement of attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13442
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


  • EEG
  • alpha oscillations
  • beta oscillations
  • individual differences
  • visual working memory

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