A parieto-medial temporal pathway for the strategic control over working memory biases in human visual attention.
Soto D., Greene CM., Kiyonaga A., Rosenthal CR., Egner T.
The contents of working memory (WM) can both aid and disrupt the goal-directed allocation of visual attention. WM benefits attention when its contents overlap with goal-relevant stimulus features, but WM leads attention astray when its contents match features of currently irrelevant stimuli. Recent behavioral data have documented that WM biases of attention may be subject to strategic cognitive control processes whereby subjects are able to either enhance or inhibit the influence of WM contents on attention. However, the neural mechanisms supporting cognitive control over WM biases on attention are presently unknown. Here, we characterize these mechanisms by combining human functional magnetic resonance imaging with a task that independently manipulates the relationship between WM cues and attention targets during visual search (with WM contents matching either search targets or distracters), as well as the predictability of this relationship (100 vs 50% predictability) to assess participants' ability to strategically enhance or inhibit WM biases on attention when WM contents reliably matched targets or distracter stimuli, respectively. We show that cues signaling predictable (> unpredictable) WM-attention relations reliably enhanced search performance, and that this strategic modulation of the interplay between WM contents and visual attention was mediated by a neuroanatomical network involving the posterior parietal cortex, the posterior cingulate, and medial temporal lobe structures, with responses in the hippocampus proper correlating with behavioral measures of strategic control of WM biases. Thus, we delineate a novel parieto-medial temporal pathway implementing cognitive control over WM biases to optimize goal-directed selection.