Causal evidence for the role of the sensory visual cortex in visual short-term memory maintenance


The role of the sensory visual cortex during visual short-term memory (VSTM) remains controversial. This controversy is possibly due to methodological issues in previous attempts to investigate the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on VSTM. The aim of this study was to use TMS, while covering previous methodological deficits. Sixty-four young adults were recruited to participate in two experiments (Experiment 1: n = 36; Experiment 2: n = 28) using a VSTM orientation change-detection task under TMS. Monocular vision was ensured using red-blue goggles combined with red-blue stimuli. Double-pulse TMS was delivered at different times (Experiment 1: 0, 200 or 1000 ms; Experiment 2: 200, 1000 ms) during a 2 s maintenance phase, on one side of the occipital hemisphere. In Experiment 2, a sham TMS condition was introduced. Decreased detection sensitivity (d0) in the ipsilateral occipital hemisphere to visual hemifield, and in the real TMS (compared with sham TMS) condition indicated inhibitory TMS effects, and thus, a causal involvement of the sensory visual cortex during early (200 ms) and late (1000 ms) maintenance in VSTM. These findings are aligned with sensory recruitment, which proposes that both perceptual and memory processes rely upon the same neural substrates in the sensory visual cortex. The methods used in this study were preregistered and had received in-principle acceptance on 6 June 2022 (Stage 1 protocol can be found in: EMPDT).

Royal Society Open Science