Working Memory

The Brain & Cognition lab has been investigating the interplay between attentional prioritization and working memory for several years. In two recently funded projects by the British Academy and the Royal Society to Nahid Zokaei (British Academy Post-doctoral Fellowship) and Freek van Ede (Newton International Fellowship), we will be further investigating how information in working memory can be dynamically prioritized and what neural mechanisms prior to encoding and during working-memory maintenance contribute to this. This builds on recent research in the lab demonstrating that cues presented during working memory maintenance can dynamically prioritize items in working memory (Wallis et al., 2015) and that ongoing brain states (alpha oscillations) can influence the precision of subsequent working memory representations (Myers et al., 2014).

Experimental Approach

This research programme makes use of behavioural psychophysical experiments as well as state-of-the-art neuroimaging methodologies including MEG, TMS and fMRI. We will investigate how preparatory as well as retroactive cues influence the contents and precision of working-memory representations as well as the neural mechanisms that underlie such influences. While we will be investigating this predominantly in healthy young volunteers, part of this research programme will also explore working-memory impairments in ageing and disease.


Working memory is a core cognitive construct that is fundamental to everyday tasks such as learning and reasoning. Moreover, in a society in which the amount of sensory information we receive is expanding, prioritization of relevant over irrelevant information is becoming increasingly important. As this research programme will advance our understanding of the mechanisms that govern prioritization in working memory, it is expected to lead to translatable outcomes that could benefit society. For example, understanding the mechanisms that govern access to working memory may ultimately benefit learning environments by allowing relevant information to be presented in contexts in which we are most susceptible to incorporate this information into working memory. In addition, we will also be exploring how the insights provided by the core research programme can help better understand as well as improve working memory impairments in ageing and disease.

Investigators & Collaborators

Principal Investigators: Kia Nobre, Freek van Ede, Nahid Zokaei,
Doctoral Students: Nick Myers, Robert Mok, Theresa Wildegger, Marcel Klaus

Collaborators: Mark Stokes (Oxford Experimental Psychology), Masud Husain (Oxford Experimental Psychology), Mark Woolrich (Oxford Centre for Human Brain Activity)


Information for Funding Required

Related Web Links: 

Newton International Fellowship Award Recipients 2014

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Recipients in Oxford University 2015