Abstract

Humans can construct rich subjective experience even when no information is available in the external world. Here, we investigated the neural representation of purely internally generated stimulus-like information during visual working memory. Participants performed delayed recall of oriented gratings embedded in noise with varying contrast during fMRI scanning. Their trialwise behavioral responses provided an estimate of their mental representation of the to-be-reported orientation. We used multivariate inverted encoding models to reconstruct the neural representations of orientation in reference to the response. We found that response orientation could be successfully reconstructed from activity in early visual cortex, even on 0% contrast trials when no orientation information was actually presented, suggesting the existence of a purely internally generated neural code in early visual cortex. In addition, cross-generalization and multidimensional scaling analyses demonstrated that information derived from internal sources was represented differently from typical working memory representations, which receive influences from both external and internal sources. Similar results were also observed in intraparietal sulcus, with slightly different cross-generalization patterns. These results suggest a potential mechanism for how externally driven and internally generated information is maintained in working memory.

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