An fMRI study of working memory for schematic facial expressions

Research Area: Research Year: 2007
Type of Publication: Article
Authors: Beneventi, H; Barndon, Roger; Ersland, Lars; Hugdahl, Kenneth
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine neuronal activation in relation to increasing working memory load in an n-back task, using schematic drawings of facial expressions and scrambled drawings of the same facial features as stimuli. The main objective was to investigate whether working memory for drawings of facial features would yield specific activations compared to memory for scrambled drawings based on the same visual features as those making up the face drawings. fMRI-BOLD responses were acquired with a 1.5 T Siemens MR scanner while subjects watched the facial drawings alternated with the scrambled drawings, in a block-design. Subjects had to hold either 1 or 2 items in working memory. We found that the main effect of increasing memory load from one to two items yielded significant activations in a bilaterally distributed cortical network consisting of regions in the occipitotemporal cortex, the inferior parietal lobule, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area and the cerebellum. In addition, we found a memory load x drawings interaction in the right inferior frontal gyrus in favor of the facial drawings. These findings show that working memory is specific for facial features which interact with a general cognitive load component to produce significant activations in prefrontal regions of the brain.
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