Is Activity Silent Working Memory Simply Episodic Memory?

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40 Scopus citations


Working memory (WM) maintains task-relevant information in a state ready for processing. While traditional theories assume that sustained neuronal activity is responsible for WM, the Activity Silent WM (ASWM) account proposes that maintenance can also be supported by short-term synaptic weight changes. Here, we argue that the evidence for ASWM can be explained more parsimoniously by the involvement of episodic memory (EM) in WM tasks. Like ASWM, EM relies on rapid synaptic modification that is also activity silent; however, while ASWM posits transient synaptic modifications, EM traces persist over longer time periods. We discuss how, despite this difference, well-established EM mechanisms can account for the key findings attributed to ASWM, and describe predictions of this account.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)284-293
Number of pages10
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


  • activity silent working memory
  • cognitive control
  • episodic memory
  • working memory


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