Working memory (WM) is limited in its temporal length and capacity. Classic conceptions of WM capacity assume the system possesses a finite number of slots, but recent evidence suggests WM may be a continuous resource. Resource models typically assume there is no hard upper bound on the number of items that can be stored, but WM fidelity decreases with the number of items. We analyze a neural field model of multi-item WM that associates each item with the location of a bump in a finite spatial domain, considering items that span a one-dimensional continuous feature space. Our analysis relates the neural architecture of the network to accumulated errors and capacity limitations arising during the delay period of a multi-item WM task. Networks with stronger synapses support wider bumps that interact more, whereas networks with weaker synapses support narrower bumps that are more susceptible to noise perturbations. There is an optimal synaptic strength that both limits bump interaction events and the effects of noise perturbations. This optimum shifts to weaker synapses as the number of items stored in the network is increased. Our model not only provides a circuit-based explanation for WM capacity, but also speaks to how capacity relates to the arrangement of stored items in a feature space.
Journal of Computational Neuroscience – Springer Journals
Published: Mar 15, 2018
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