Neural signatures for the n-back task with different loads

The n-back task is widely used in working memory (WM) research. However, it remains unclear how the electrophysiological correlates of WM processes, the P2, N2, P300, and negative slow wave (NSW), are affected by differences in load. Specifically, while previous work has examined the P300, less attention has been paid to the other components assessing the load of the n-back paradigm. The present study aims to investigate whether other sub-processes in WM (such as inhibitory control) are as sensitive to n-back load changes as the update process by observing changes in the above event-related potential (ERP) components. The results showed poorer behavioral performance with increasing WM load. Greater NSW and smaller P300 amplitudes were elicited by n-back task with a higher load compared to that with lower load. In contrast, there was no significant effect of the n-back load on the amplitudes of P2 and N2. These findings suggest that the updating process and the maintenance process are sensitive to the n-back load change. Therefore, changes in the updating and maintenance processes should be considered when using the n-back task to manipulate the WM load in experiments. The present study may contribute to the understanding of the complexity of WM loads. Additionally, a theoretical basis for follow-up research to explore ways of improving WM performance with high load is provided.