Visual working memory is believed to rely on top–down attentional mechanisms that sustain active sensory representations in early visual cortex, a mechanism referred to as sensory recruitment. However, both bottom–up sensory input and top–down attentional modulations thereof appear to prioritize the fovea over the periphery, such that initially peripheral percepts may even be assimilated by foveal processes. This raises the question whether and how visual working memory differs for central and peripheral input. To address this, we conducted a delayed orientation recall task in which an orientation was presented either at the center of the screen or at 15° eccentricity to the left or right. Response accuracy, EEG activity, and gaze position were recorded from 30 participants. Accuracy was slightly but significantly higher for foveal versus peripheral memories. Decoding of EEG recordings revealed a clear dissociation between early sensory and later maintenance signals. Although sensory signals were clearly decodable for foveal stimuli, they were not for peripheral input. In contrast, maintenance signals were equally decodable for both foveal and peripheral memories, suggesting comparable top–down components regardless of eccentricity. Moreover, although memory representations were initially spatially specific and reflected in voltage fluctuations, later during the maintenance period, they generalized across locations, as emerged in alpha oscillations, thus revealing a dynamic transformation within memory from separate sensory traces to what we propose are common output-related codes. Furthermore, the combined absence of reliable decoding of sensory signals and robust presence of maintenance decoding indicates that storage activity patterns as measured by EEG reflect signals beyond primary visual cortex. We discuss the implications for the sensory recruitment hypothesis.

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