The ability to retain information in working memory (WM) requires not only the active maintenance of information about specific items, but also the temporal order in which the items appeared. Although many studies have investigated the neural mechanisms of item maintenance, little is known about the neural mechanisms of temporal order maintenance in WM. Here, we used electroencephalography (EEG) to compare neural oscillations during WM tasks that required maintenance of item or temporal order information. Behavioral results revealed that accuracy and reaction times were comparable between the two conditions, suggesting that task difficulty was matched between the item and temporal order WM tasks. EEG analyses indicated that theta (5-7 Hz) oscillations over prefrontal sites were increased during temporal order maintenance, whereas alpha oscillations (9-12 Hz) over posterior parietal and lateral occipital sites were increased during item maintenance. The frontal theta enhancement was primarily evident in high performers on the order WM task, whereas the posterior alpha enhancement was primarily evident in high performers on the item WM task. These results support the idea that frontal theta and posterior alpha oscillations are differentially related to maintenance of item and temporal order information.
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