The role of alpha oscillations in deriving and maintaining spatial relations in working memory

Kara J. Blacker, Akiko Ikkai, Balaji M. Lakshmanan, Joshua Benjamin Ewen, Susan Courtney-Faruqee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Previous research has demonstrated distinct neural correlates for maintenance of abstract, relational versus concrete, sensory information in working memory (WM). Storage of spatial relations in WM results in suppression of posterior sensory regions, which suggests that sensory information is task-irrelevant when relational representations are maintained in WM. However, the neural mechanisms by which abstract representations are derived from sensory information remain unclear. Here, using electroencephalography, we investigated the role of alpha oscillations in deriving spatial relations from a sensory stimulus and maintaining them in WM. Participants encoded two locations into WM, then after an initial maintenance period, a cue indicated whether to convert the spatial information to another sensory representation or to a relational representation. Results revealed that alpha power increased over posterior electrodes when sensory information was converted to a relational representation, but not when the information was converted to another sensory representation. Further, alpha phase synchrony between posterior and frontal regions increased for relational compared to sensory trials during the maintenance period. These results demonstrate that maintaining spatial relations and locations in WM rely on distinct neural oscillatory patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience
StateAccepted/In press - Jun 14 2016


  • Abstract
  • EEG
  • Phase synchrony
  • Relational
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience

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