Distinct neural mechanisms of individual and developmental differences in VSTM capacity.
Astle DE., Harvey H., Stokes M., Mohseni H., Nobre AC., Scerif G.
Our ability to maintain visuo-spatial information increases gradually through childhood and is highly variable across individuals, although the cognitive and neural mechanisms underpinning these differences in capacity are unknown. We presented participants with arrays of to-be-remembered items containing two targets, four targets, or two targets and two distracters. The participants were divided into three groups: (i) high-capacity adults; (ii) low-capacity adults; and (iii) typically developing children. In addition to our behavioral methods we used electrophysiological scalp recordings to contrast the immature VSTM capacity of the children with the deficient VSTM capacity of the low-capacity adults. We also observed a relative negativity in the maintenance delay, over scalp contralateral to the original locations of the memoranda. For the low-capacity adults, this negativity was similarly modulated by target and distracter items, indicative of poor selectivity. This was not the case for the high-capacity adults; the response to memory arrays containing two target items and two distracters was equivalent to the response elicited by arrays containing only two target items. Importantly, the pattern of results in the children's ERP data was equivalent to that of the high-capacity adults, rather than to the performance-matched low-capacity adults. In short, despite their obvious differences in capacity, children are not specifically impaired at filtering out distractors, as characteristic of low-capacity adults.