Oscillatory brain activity and maintenance of verbal and visual working memory: A systematic review


Brain oscillations likely play a significant role in the storage of information in working memory (WM). Despite the wide popularity of the topic, current attempts to summarize the research in the field are narrative reviews. We address this gap by providing a descriptive systematic review, in which we investigated oscillatory correlates of maintenance of verbal and visual information in WM. The systematic approach enabled us to challenge some common views popularized by previous research. The identified literature (100 EEG/MEG studies) highlighted the importance of theta oscillations in verbal WM: frontal midline theta enhanced with load in most verbal studies, while more equivocal results have been obtained in visual studies. Increasing WM load affected alpha activity in most studies, but the direction of the effect was inconsistent: the ratio of studies that found alpha increase versus decrease with increasing load was 80/20% in the verbal WM domain and close to 60/40% in the visual domain. Alpha asymmetry (left textless right) was a common finding in both verbal and visual WM studies. Beta and gamma activity studies yielded the least convincing data: a diversity in the spatial and frequency distribution of beta activity prevented us from making a coherent conclusion; gamma rhythm was virtually neglected in verbal WM studies with no systematic support for sustained gamma changes during the delay in EEG studies in general.