Brain activity is related to individual differences in the number of items stored in auditory short-term memory for pitch: Evidence from magnetoencephalography

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Abstract

We used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to examine brain activity related to the maintenance of non-verbal pitch information in auditory short-term memory (ASTM). We focused on brain activity that increased with the number of items effectively held in memory by the participants during the retention interval of an auditory memory task. We used very simple acoustic materials (i.e., pure tones that varied in pitch) that minimized activation from non-ASTM related systems. MEG revealed neural activity in frontal, temporal, and parietal cortices that increased with a greater number of items effectively held in memory by the participants during the maintenance of pitch representations in ASTM. The present results reinforce the functional role of frontal and temporal cortices in the retention of pitch information in ASTM. This is the first MEG study to provide both fine spatial localization and temporal resolution on the neural mechanisms of non-verbal ASTM for pitch in relation to individual differences in the capacity of ASTM. This research contributes to a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms mediating the representation and maintenance of basic non-verbal auditory features in the human brain.

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