Evidence is accumulating that the classic two-stage model of visual STM (VSTM), comprising iconic memory (IM) and visual working memory (WM), is incomplete. A third memory stage, termed fragile VSTM (FM), seems to exist in between IM and WM [Vandenbroucke, A. R. E., Sligte, I. G., & Lamme, V. A. F. Manipulations of attention dissociate fragile visual STM from visual working memory. Neuropsychologia, 49, 1559–1568, 2011; Sligte, I. G., Scholte, H. S., & Lamme, V. A. F. Are there multiple visual STM stores? PLoS One, 3, e1699, 2008]. Although FM can be distinguished from IM using behavioral and fMRI methods, the question remains whether FM is a weak expression of WM or a separate form of memory with its own neural signature. Here, we tested whether FM and WM in humans are supported by dissociable time–frequency features of EEG recordings. Participants performed a partial-report change detection task, from which individual differences in FM and WM capacity were estimated. These individual FM and WM capacities were correlated with time–frequency characteristics of the EEG signal before and during encoding and maintenance of the memory display. FM capacity showed negative alpha correlations over peri-occipital electrodes, whereas WM capacity was positively related, suggesting increased visual processing (lower alpha) to be related to FM capacity. Furthermore, FM capacity correlated with an increase in theta power over central electrodes during preparation and processing of the memory display, whereas WM did not. In addition to a difference in visual processing characteristics, a positive relation between gamma power and FM capacity was observed during both preparation and maintenance periods of the task. On the other hand, we observed that theta–gamma coupling was negatively correlated with FM capacity, whereas it was slightly positively correlated with WM. These data show clear differences in the neural substrates of FM versus WM and suggest that FM depends more on visual processing mechanisms compared with WM. This study thus provides novel evidence for a dissociation between different stages in VSTM.

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