Shielding working-memory representations from temporally predictable external interference.
Gresch D., Boettcher SEP., van Ede F., Nobre AC.
Protecting working-memory content from distracting external sensory inputs and intervening tasks is an ubiquitous demand in daily life. Here, we ask whether and how temporal expectations about external events can help mitigate effects of such interference during working-memory retention. We manipulated the temporal predictability of interfering items that occurred during the retention period of a visual working-memory task and report that temporal expectations reduce the detrimental influence of external interference on subsequent memory performance. Moreover, to determine if the protective effects of temporal expectations rely on distractor suppression or involve shielding of internal representations, we compared effects after irrelevant distractors that could be ignored vs. interrupters that required a response. Whereas distractor suppression may be sufficient to confer protection from predictable distractors, any benefits after interruption are likely to involve memory shielding. We found similar benefits of temporal expectations after both types of interference. We conclude that temporal expectations may play an important role in safeguarding behaviour based on working memory - acting through mechanisms that include the shielding of internal content from external interference.