A neural model of retrospective attention in visual working memory.23 Feb 2018
An informative cue that directs attention to one of several items in working memory improves subsequent recall of that item. Here we examine the mechanism of this retro-cue effect using a model of short-term memory based on neural population coding. Our model describes recalled feature values as the output of an optimal decoding of spikes generated by a tuned population of neurons. This neural model provides a better account of human recall data than an influential model that assumes errors can be described as a mixture of normally distributed noise and random guesses. The retro-cue benefit is revealed to be consistent with a higher firing rate of the population encoding the cued versus uncued items, with no difference in tuning specificity. Additionally, a retro-cued item is less likely to be swapped with another item in memory, an effect that can also be explained by greater activity of the underlying population. These results provide a parsimonious account of the effects of retrospective attention on recall and demonstrate a principled method for investigating neural representations with behavioral tasks.