Electrical Stimulation Over Human Posterior Parietal Cortex Selectively Enhances the Capacity of Visual Short-Term Memory


Visual short-term memory (VSTM) provides an on-line mental space for incoming sensory information to be temporally maintained to carry out complex behavioral tasks. Despite its essential functions, the capacity at which VSTM could maintain sensory information is limited (i.e., VSTM can hold only about three to four visual items at once). Moreover, the quality of sensory representation (i.e., precision) degrades as more information has to be maintained in VSTM. Correlational evidence suggests that the level and the pattern of neural activity measured in the posterior parietal cortex (PPC) track both VSTM capacity and precision. However, the causal contributions of the PPC to these different VSTM operations are unclear. Here, we tested whether stimulating the PPC with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) could increase VSTM capacity or precision. We found that stimulating the PPC in male and female human participants selectively enhanced VSTM capacity when the number of memory items exceeded capacity limit, without significant effects on VSTM precision. Moreover, this enhancement of VSTM capacity is region specific as stimulating the prefrontal cortex did not change VSTM capacity or precision. Null stimulation effects in the sensory memory condition confirmed that the tDCS-induced enhancement of VSTM capacity was not simply due to changes in sensory or attentional processes. Altogether, these results provide causal evidence suggesting that the PPC has a more dominant role in supporting the storage capacity of VSTM compared with maintaining the quality of sensory representations. Furthermore, tDCS could be used as a promising noninvasive method to enhance this PPC VSTM-related function.


Wang, S., Itthipuripat, S. and Ku, Y., 2019. Electrical stimulation over human posterior parietal cortex selectively enhances the capacity of visual short-term memory. Journal of Neuroscience, 39(3), pp.528-536.