Awh said that "these findings provide strong evidence that these electrical oscillations in the alpha frequency band play a key role in a person's ability to store a limited number of items in working memory."
"By identifying particular rhythms that are important to memory, we're getting closer to understanding the low-level building blocks of this really limited cognitive ability. If this rhythm is what allows people to hold things in mind, then understanding how that rhythm is generated -- and what restricts the number of things that can be represented -- may provide insights into the basic capacity limits of the mind."
The findings emerged from a basic research project led by Awh and co-author Edward K. Vogel -- funded by the National Institutes of Health -- that seeks to understand the limits of storing information. "It turns out that it's quite restricted," Awh said. "People can only think about a couple of things at a time, and they miss things that would seem to be extremely obvious and memorable if that limited set of resources is diverted elsewhere."
"With EEG we get a fine-grained measure of the precise contents of memory, while benefitting from the superior temporal resolution of electrophysiological measures," Awh said. "This EEG approach is a powerful new tool for tracking and decoding mental representations with high temporal resolution. It should provide us with new insights into how rhythmic brain activity supports core memory processes."