Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 224, Issue 2, pp 255–262 | Cite as

Frontal theta is a signature of successful working memory manipulation

  • Sirawaj Itthipuripat
  • Jan R. Wessel
  • Adam R. Aron
Research Article


It has been proposed that working memory (WM) is updated/manipulated via a fronto-basal-ganglia circuit. One way that this could happen is via the synchronization of neural oscillations. A first step toward testing this hypothesis is to clearly establish a frontal scalp EEG signature of WM manipulation. Although many EEG studies have indeed revealed frontal EEG signatures for WM, especially in the theta frequency band (3–8 Hz), few of them required subjects to manipulate WM, and of those that did, none specifically tied the EEG signature to the manipulation process per se. Here we employed a WM manipulation task that has been shown with imaging to engage the prefrontal cortex and the striatum. We adapted this task to titrate the success of WM manipulation to approximately 50 %. Using time–frequency analysis of EEG, we showed that theta power increased over frontal cortex for successful versus failed WM manipulation, specifically at the time of the manipulation event. This establishes a clear-cut EEG signature of WM manipulation. Future studies could employ this to test the fronto-basal-ganglia hypothesis of WM updating/manipulation.


EEG Theta oscillations Working memory Manipulation Cognitive control Neural oscillations 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sirawaj Itthipuripat
    • 1
  • Jan R. Wessel
    • 2
  • Adam R. Aron
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Neurosciences Graduate ProgramUniversity of California, San DiegoSan DiegoUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of California, San DiegoSan DiegoUSA

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