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Working memory and brain oscillations: a bell-and-hammer model

Working memory allows the relevant information to be kept online for brief periods of time such that it can be manipulated and used in subsequent tasks. As such, it makes a lot of sense to consider working memory as a process, rather than a storage location. I will consider this idea in two contexts. On the neuroscientific level, I have recently suggested (van Vugt, Chakravarthi & Lachaux, 2014) that working memory may be reflected in the periodic reactivation of high-frequency gamma oscillations by an oscillating attention process. This implies that working memory capacity is essentially the number of representations that can simultaneously be kept active by a rhythmically sampling attentional spotlight given the known decay rate of these gamma-oscillation representations. Yet, on the level of more complex tasks, there may be other strategies to select the most relevant information. In that context, working memory capacity may be defined by being able to use the most adaptive strategy for maintaining and selecting information in a particular situation. Such a conception of working memory capacity would potentially be able to explain observed relationships between working memory capacity and mind-wandering.

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