, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 1-17,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 28 Sep 2007

Coherence and recurrency: maintenance, control and integration in working memory


Working memory (WM), including a ‘central executive’, is used to guide behavior by internal goals or intentions. We suggest that WM is best described as a set of three interdependent functions which are implemented in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). These functions are maintenance, control of attention and integration. A model for the maintenance function is presented, and we will argue that this model can be extended to incorporate the other functions as well. Maintenance is the capacity to briefly maintain information in the absence of corresponding input, and even in the face of distracting information. We will argue that maintenance is based on recurrent loops between PFC and posterior parts of the brain, and probably within PFC as well. In these loops information can be held temporarily in an active form. We show that a model based on these structural ideas is capable of maintaining a limited number of neural patterns. Not the size, but the coherence of patterns (i.e., a chunking principle based on synchronous firing of interconnected cell assemblies) determines the maintenance capacity. A mechanism that optimizes coherent pattern segregation, also poses a limit to the number of assemblies (about four) that can concurrently reverberate. Top-down attentional control (in perception, action and memory retrieval) can be modelled by the modulation and re-entry of top-down information to posterior parts of the brain. Hierarchically organized modules in PFC create the possibility for information integration. We argue that large-scale multimodal integration of information creates an ‘episodic buffer’, and may even suffice for implementing a central executive.