Mind’s Eye Inward: The Interplay between Selective Attention and Working Memory


Mind’s Eye Inward: The Interplay between Selective Attention and Working Memory

Historically, cognitive sciences have considered selective attention and working memory as largely separated cognitive functions. That is, selective attention as a concept is typically reserved for the processes that allow for the prioritization of specific sensory input, while working memory entails more central structures for maintaining (and operating on) temporary mental representations. However, over the last decades various observations have been reported that question such sharp distinction. Most importantly, information stored in working memory has been shown to modulate selective attention processing – and vice versa. At the theoretical level, these observations are paralleled by an increasingly dominant focus on working memory as (involving) the attended part of long-term memory, with some positions considering that working memory is equivalent to selective attention turned to long-term memory representations – or internal selective attention. This questions the existence of working memory as a dedicated cognitive function and raises the need for integrative accounts of working memory and attention. The next step will be to explore the precise implications of attentional accounts of WM for the understanding of specific aspects and characteristics of WM, such as serial order processing, its modality-specificity, its capacity limitations, its relation with executive functions, the nature of attentional mechanisms involved, et cetera.

This research topic in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience aims at bringing together the latest insights and findings about the interplay between working memory and selective attention.. As such, manuscripts are especially solicited that contribute to an understanding of the interplay between (selective) attention and working memory at a functional level, while this issue may be approached from a broad range of domains (i.e., from behavioral and neuro-imaging to (clinical) neuropsychological work). A (non-exhaustive) selection of more specific questions that may be addressed in this research topic:

• How do attentional processes contribute to short-term maintenance and/or retrieval of mental representations?

• What can we tell from neuro-imaging or (clinical) neuropsychological work with respect to the interplay between selective attention and working memory?

• Can the link between serial order WM and spatial attention help us to explain some of the properties of clinical syndromes like dyslexia, hemispatial neglect?

• What are the neural underpinnings of the relationship between (spatial) attention and working memory?

• How is serial order maintenance understood within an attention-based account of working memory?

• What is the impact of working memory content on attentive processing of perceptual information?

• Besides selective attention, is there a role for central attentional resources in working memory?

• How can typical observations in the working memory literature be related to attentional processing?

• Which aspects of working memory are modality independent, and which are not?

• What is the relationship between long-term serial order, short-term serial order and attentional processing?


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