Contralateral delay activity tracks the storage of visually presented letters and words

Jason Rajsic, Jane Burton, Geoffrey Woodman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


Electrophysiological studies have demonstrated that the maintenance of items in visual working memory (VWM) is indexed by the contralateral delay activity (CDA), which increases in amplitude as the number of objects to remember increases, plateauing at VWM capacity. Previous work has primarily utilized simple visual items, such as colored squares or picture stimuli. Despite the frequent use of verbal stimuli in seminal investigations of visual attention and memory, it is unknown whether temporary storage of letters and words also elicit a typical load‐sensitive CDA. Given their close associations with language and phonological codes, it is possible that participants store these stimuli phonologically, and not visually. Participants completed a standard visual change‐detection task while their ERPs were recorded. Experiment 1 compared the CDA elicited by colored squares compared to uppercase consonants, and Experiment 2 compared the CDA elicited by words compared to colored bars. Behavioral accuracy of change detection decreased with increasing set size for colored squares, letters, and words. We found that a capacity‐limited CDA was present for colored squares, letters, and word arrays, suggesting that the visual codes for letters and words were maintained in VWM, despite the potential for transfer to verbal working memory. These results suggest that, despite their verbal associations, letters and words elicit the electrophysiological marker of VWM encoding and storage.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13282
Issue number1
Early online date24 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


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