Refreshing is the component cognitive process of directing reflective attention to one of several active mental representations. Previous studies using fMRI suggested that refresh tasks involve a component process of initiating refreshing as well as the top–down modulation of representational regions central to refreshing. However, those studies were limited by fMRI's low temporal resolution. In this study, we used EEG to examine the time course of refreshing on the scale of milliseconds rather than seconds. ERP analyses showed that a typical refresh task does have a distinct electrophysiological response as compared to a control condition and includes at least two main temporal components: an earlier (∼400 msec) positive peak reminiscent of a P3 response and a later (∼800–1400 msec) sustained positivity over several sites reminiscent of the late directing attention positivity. Overall, the evoked potentials for refreshing representations from three different visual categories (faces, scenes, words) were similar, but multivariate pattern analysis showed that some category information was nonetheless present in the EEG signal. When related to previous fMRI studies, these results are consistent with a two-phase model, with the first phase dominated by frontal control signals involved in initiating refreshing and the second by the top–down modulation of posterior perceptual cortical areas that constitutes refreshing a representation. This study also lays the foundation for future studies of the neural correlates of reflective attention at a finer temporal resolution than is possible using fMRI.

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