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Alpha oscillations are often reported to be amplified during working memory (WM) retention, serving to disengage sensory areas to protect internal representations from external interference. At the same time, contemporary views of WM postulate that sensory areas may often also be recruited for retention. I here review recent evidence that during such 'perceptual' WM, alpha oscillations in mnemonically relevant sensory areas are not amplified but attenuated instead. I will argue that such attenuated alpha states serve a mnemonic role and, further, that larger attenuation may support item-specific attentional prioritisation within perceptual WM. In critically evaluating this role, I also consider (and argue against) four alternatives to a strictly mnemonic account of the available data that may also prove useful to consider in future research. Finally, I highlight key implications of these data for the study of WM and for our understanding of the functional roles of states of attenuated alpha oscillations in cognition.

Original publication




Journal article


Eur J Neurosci

Publication Date



attentional prioritisation, electroencephalography, neuronal oscillations, sensory recruitment, working memory retention