This article is part of the Research Topic Mental Imagery - Frontiers in Perception Science

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 18 January 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00561

A cross-modal perspective on the relationships between imagery and working memory

  • The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, San Francisco, CA, USA

Mapping the distinctions and interrelationships between imagery and working memory (WM) remains challenging. Although each of these major cognitive constructs is defined and treated in various ways across studies, most accept that both imagery and WM involve a form of internal representation available to our awareness. In WM, there is a further emphasis on goal-oriented, active maintenance, and use of this conscious representation to guide voluntary action. Multicomponent WM models incorporate representational buffers, such as the visuo-spatial sketchpad, plus central executive functions. If there is a visuo-spatial “sketchpad” for WM, does imagery involve the same representational buffer? Alternatively, does WM employ an imagery-specific representational mechanism to occupy our awareness? Or do both constructs utilize a more generic “projection screen” of an amodal nature? To address these issues, in a cross-modal fMRI study, I introduce a novel Drawing-Based Memory Paradigm, and conceptualize drawing as a complex behavior that is readily adaptable from the visual to non-visual modalities (such as the tactile modality), which opens intriguing possibilities for investigating cross-modal learning and plasticity. Blindfolded participants were trained through our Cognitive-Kinesthetic Method (Likova, 2010a, 2012) to draw complex objects guided purely by the memory of felt tactile images. If this WM task had been mediated by transfer of the felt spatial configuration to the visual imagery mechanism, the response-profile in visual cortex would be predicted to have the “top-down” signature of propagation of the imagery signal downward through the visual hierarchy. Remarkably, the pattern of cross-modal occipital activation generated by the non-visual memory drawing was essentially the inverse of this typical imagery signature. The sole visual hierarchy activation was isolated to the primary visual area (V1), and accompanied by deactivation of the entire extrastriate cortex, thus ’cutting-off’ any signal propagation from/to V1 through the visual hierarchy. The implications of these findings for the debate on the interrelationships between the core cognitive constructs of WM and imagery and the nature of internal representations are evaluated.

Keywords: visual imagery, visuo-spatial sketchpad, working memory, primary visual cortex V1, drawing, fMRI

Citation: Likova LT (2013) A cross-modal perspective on the relationships between imagery and working memory. Front. Psychology 3:561. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00561

Received: 15 June 2012; Accepted: 28 November 2012;
Published online: 18 January 2013.

Edited by:

Joel Pearson, The University of New South Wales, Australia

Reviewed by:

Holly Bridge, University of Oxford, UK
Axel Kohler, University of Münster, Germany

Copyright: © 2013 Likova. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Lora T. Likova, The Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, 2318 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA, USA. e-mail:

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