From storage to manipulation: How the neural correlates of verbal working memory reflect varying demands on inner speech

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67 Scopus citations


The ability to store and manipulate online information may be enhanced by an inner speech mechanism that draws upon motor brain regions. Neural correlates of this mechanism were examined using event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Sixteen participants completed two conditions of a verbal working memory task. In both conditions, participants viewed one or two target letters. In the "storage" condition, these targets were held in mind across a delay. Then a probe letter was presented, and participants indicated by button press whether the probe matched the targets. In the "manipulation" condition, participants identified new targets by thinking two alphabetical letters forward of each original target (e.g., f → h). Participants subsequently indicated whether the probe matched the newly derived targets. Brain activity during the storage and manipulation conditions was examined specifically during the delay phase in order to directly compare manipulation versus storage processes. Activations that were common to both conditions, yet disproportionately greater with manipulation, were observed in the left inferior frontal cortex, premotor cortex, and anterior insula, bilaterally in the parietal lobes and superior cerebellum, and in the right inferior cerebellum. This network shares substrates with overt speech and may represent an inner speech pathway that increases activity with greater working memory demands. Additionally, an inverse correlation was observed between manipulation-related brain activity (on correct trials) and test accuracy in the left premotor cortex, anterior insula, and bilateral superior cerebellum. This inverse relationship may represent intensification of inner speech as one struggles to maintain performance levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-51
Number of pages10
JournalBrain and Language
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Cerebellum
  • FMRI
  • Frontal
  • Insula
  • Parietal
  • Phonological loop
  • Premotor
  • Speech
  • Sternberg
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing


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