The ability to integrate different types of information (e.g., object identity and spatial orientation) and maintain or manipulate them concurrently in working memory (WM) facilitates the flow of ongoing tasks and is essential for normal human cognition. Research shows that object and spatial information is maintained and manipulated in WM via separate pathways in the brain (object/ventral versus spatial/dorsal). How does the human brain coordinate the activity of different specialized systems to conjoin different types of information? Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate conjunction- versus single-task manipulation of object (compute average color blend) and spatial (compute intermediate angle) information in WM. Object WM was associated with ventral (inferior frontal gyrus, occipital cortex), and spatial WM with dorsal (parietal cortex, superior frontal, and temporal sulci) regions. Conjoined object/spatial WM resulted in intermediate activity in these specialized areas, but greater activity in different prefrontal and parietal areas. Unique to our study, we found lower temporo-occipital activity and greater deactivation in temporal and medial prefrontal cortices for conjunction- versus single-tasks. Using structural equation modeling, we derived a conjunction-task connectivity model that comprises a frontoparietal network with a bidirectional DLPFC-VLPFC connection, and a direct parietal-extrastriate pathway. We suggest that these activation/deactivation patterns reflect efficient resource allocation throughout the brain and propose a new extended version of the biased competition model of WM.
- working memory