Hemispheric asymmetries in EEG alpha oscillations indicate active inhibition during attentional orienting within working memory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Daniel Schneider
  • Anna Göddertz
  • Henrike Haase
  • Clayton Hickey
  • Edmund Wascher

External organisations

  • TU Dortmund


Working memory contents can be prioritized by retroactively deploying attention within memory. This is broadly interpreted as evidence of a concentration of memory resources to the attended, to-be-remembered stimulus. However, online attentional selection is known to additionally depend on distractor inhibition, raising the viable alternative that attentional deployment in working memory involves inhibitory control processes. Here, we demonstrate that active inhibition plays a central role in the deployment of attention in working memory. We do so using a retroactive cueing paradigm, where a briefly presented memory array is followed by a cue indicating a to-be-remembered target (Experiment 1) or a to-be-forgotten distractor (Experiment 2). We identify discrete indices of target selection and distractor inhibition in lateralized oscillatory activity over visual areas. When a retroactive cue identifies the location of a target, results show rapid decrease of lateral, target-elicited alpha band activity, representing attentional orienting toward the target. This is followed only later by emergence of an increase in distractor-elicited alpha activity, reflecting distractor inhibition. In contrast, when the retroactive cue identifies a distractor, evidence of distractor inhibition emerges first, only later followed by target selection. These results thus demonstrate that separate excitatory and inhibitory processes underlie the deployment of attention on the level of working memory representations.

Bibliographic note

Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)38-46
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Early online date16 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2019


  • Alpha power lateralization, Inhibition, Selective attention, Working memory, Humans, Male, Memory, Short-Term/physiology, Functional Laterality, Neuropsychological Tests, Young Adult, Adult, Female, Alpha Rhythm/physiology, Attention/physiology, Inhibition (Psychology)

ASJC Scopus subject areas