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Characterizing the neuro-cognitive architecture of non-conscious working memory

Abstract : Our lives hinge on our ability to hold information online for immediate use. For over a century, cognitive neuroscientists have regarded such working memory as closely related to consciousness, with both functions sharing similar features and brain mechanisms. Recent work has challenged this view, demonstrating that non-conscious information may affect behavior for several seconds, and suggesting that there exists a genuine non-conscious working memory system. I here combine behavioral and modeling approaches with time-resolved magnetoencephalography and multivariate pattern analysis to put this proposal to the test. In a first study, I rule out alternative explanations for the long-lasting blindsight effect, showing that it results from a genuinely non-conscious process. Crucially, this non-conscious maintenance is not accompanied by persistent delay-period activity, but instead stores information in “activity-silent” brain states via transient changes in synaptic weights. In a second set of experiments, I systematically evaluate key properties of conscious working memory in the context of long-lasting blindsight. While even multiple items and their temporal order may be stored non-consciously, manipulating stored representations is associated with consciousness and sustained neural activity. Together, these results challenge theories that equate the maintenance of information in working memory with conscious activity sustained throughout the delay period, but also contradict the notion of a genuine non-conscious “working” memory. Instead, I propose the existence of activity-silent short-term memory.
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Darinka Trübutschek. Characterizing the neuro-cognitive architecture of non-conscious working memory. Cognitive Sciences. Sorbonne Université, 2018. English. ⟨NNT : 2018SORUS101⟩. ⟨tel-02956592⟩

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