Although humans can hold multiple items in mind simultaneously, the contents of working memory (WM) can be selectively prioritized to guide future behavior. We explored whether the “same-object” benefits in visual processing may also be observed in visual WM. fMRI data were collected while participants performed a multistep serial retrocuing task in which they first viewed two 2-D objects (coherently moving colored dots). During retention, an initial relevance cue then indicated whether only the first or only the second object (“object-relevant”), or only the color of both objects or only their direction of motion would be relevant for the remainder of the trial (“feature-relevant”). On “object-relevant” trials, the ensuing priority cues selected either one of the features (“color” or “direction”) bound to the relevance-cued object, whereas on “feature-relevant” trials, the priority cues selected one of the two relevance-cued features. Using multivariate inverted encoding models, we found a same-object benefit on object-relevant trials in occipitotemporal regions: On feature-relevant trials, the first priority cue triggered a strengthening of the neural representation of the cued feature and a concomitant weakening to baseline of the uncued feature, whereas on object-relevant trials, the cued item remained active but did not increase in strength and the uncued item weakened but remained significantly elevated throughout the delay period. Although the stimulus-specific representation in frontoparietal regions was weak and uneven, these regions closely tracked the higher order information of which stimulus category was relevant for behavior throughout the trial, suggesting an important role in controlling the prioritization of information in visual WM.

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