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Wolinski, Nina; Cooper, Nicholas R.; Sauseng, Paul; Romei, Vincenzo (14. March 2018): The speed of parietal theta frequency drives visuospatial working memory capacity.
In: PLoS Biology 16(3), e2005348


The speed of theta brain oscillatory activity is thought to play a key role in determining working memory (WM) capacity. Individual differences in the length of a theta cycle (ranging between 4 and 7 Hz) might determine how many gamma cycles (>30 Hz) can be nested into a theta wave. Gamma cycles are thought to represent single memory items; therefore, this interplay could determine individual memory capacity. We directly tested this hypothesis by means of parietal transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) set at slower (4 Hz) and faster (7 Hz) theta frequencies during a visuospatial WM paradigm. Accordingly, we found that 4-Hz tACS enhanced WM capacity, while 7-Hz tACS reduced WM capacity. Notably, these effects were found only for items presented to the hemifield contralateral to the stimulation site. This provides causal evidence for a frequency-dependent and spatially specific organization of WM storage, supporting the theta–gamma phase coupling theory of WM capacity.