Working memory and preparation elicit different patterns of slow wave event-related brain potentials


  • This study was supported in part by United States Public Health Service grants from NINDS to D.S.R. (NS11199) and to W.R. (NS30029).

Address reprint requests to: Dr. Daniel S. Ruchkin, University of Maryland, School of Medicine, Department of Physiology, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA. E-mail:


Some event-related brain potential (ERP) studies of working memory have used delayed match-to-sample designs in which a stimulus (S1) is held in memory for comparison with a subsequent stimulus (S2). During the S1-S2 interval, ERP slow negativities varied with both the type and amount of material held in working memory. One interpretation is that these slow waves index working memory operations. An alternative explanation is that they only reflect general preparatory processing for the response to S2. To decide between these explanations, we used two visual processing tasks that required similar preparation for S2. In one task, visual memory rehearsal operations were required. During the S1-S2 interval, there were clear differences between the amplitudes, topographies, and the effect of information load on the slow waves in the two tasks, thus ruling out preparation only as an explanation.