Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 233, Issue 2, pp 519–528 | Cite as

Electrophysiological evidence for enhanced representation of food stimuli in working memory

  • Femke RuttersEmail author
  • Sanjay Kumar
  • Suzanne Higgs
  • Glyn W. Humphreys
Research Article


Studies from our laboratory have shown that, relative to neutral objects, food-related objects kept in working memory (WM) are particularly effective in guiding attention to food stimuli (Higgs et al. in Appetite, 2012). Here, we used electrophysiological measurements to investigate the neural representation of food versus non-food items in WM. Subjects were presented with a cue (food or non-food item) to either attend to or hold in WM. Subsequently, they had to search for a target, while the target and distractor were each flanked by a picture of a food or non-food item. Behavioural data showed that a food cue held in WM modulated the deployment of visual attention to a search target more than a non-food cue, even though the cue was irrelevant for target selection. Electrophysiological measures of attention, memory and retention of memory (the P3, LPP and SPCN components) were larger when food was kept in WM, compared to non-food items. No such effect was observed in a priming task, when the initial cue was merely identified. Overall, our electrophysiological data are consistent with the suggestion that food stimuli are particularly strongly represented in the WM system.


Attention Working memory Food and non-food cues Long-latency ERPs 



This work was supported by grants from the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the European Union (FP7) and the Medical Research Council, UK.

Conflict of interest

None of the authors disclose any conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Femke Rutters
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Sanjay Kumar
    • 3
  • Suzanne Higgs
    • 1
  • Glyn W. Humphreys
    • 4
  1. 1.School of PsychologyUniversity of BirminghamBirminghamUK
  2. 2.Epidemiology and BiostatisticsVU Medical CentreAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyOxford Brookes UniversityOxfordUK
  4. 4.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

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