Load effects on spatial working memory performance are linked to distributed alpha and beta oscillations

Amy L. Proskovec, Alex I. Wiesman, Elizabeth Heinrichs-Graham, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Increasing spatial working memory (SWM) load is generally associated with declines in behavioral performance, but the neural correlates of load-related behavioral effects remain poorly understood. Herein, we examine the alterations in oscillatory activity that accompany such performance changes in 22 healthy adults who performed a two- and four-load SWM task during magnetoencephalography (MEG). All MEG data were transformed into the time-frequency domain and significant oscillatory responses were imaged separately per load using a beamformer. Whole-brain correlation maps were computed using the load-related beamformer difference images and load-related accuracy effects on the SWM task. The results indicated that load-related differences in left inferior frontal alpha activity during encoding and maintenance were negatively correlated with load-related accuracy differences on the SWM task. That is, individuals who had more substantial decreases in prefrontal alpha during high-relative to low-load SWM trials tended to have smaller performance decrements on the high-load condition (i.e., they performed more accurately). The same pattern of neurobehavioral correlations was observed during the maintenance period for right superior temporal alpha activity and right superior parietal beta activity. Importantly, this is the first study to employ a voxel-wise whole-brain approach to significantly link load-related oscillatory differences and load-related SWM performance differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3682-3689
Number of pages8
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number12
StatePublished - Aug 15 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • magnetoencephalography (MEG)
  • oscillatory activity
  • posterior parietal cortex (PPC)
  • prefrontal cortex (PFC)
  • superior temporal cortex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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