Visual working memory (VWM) refers to people's ability to maintain and manipulate visual information on line. Its capacity varies between individuals, and neuroimaging studies have suggested a link between one's VWM capacity and theta power in the parietal cortex. However, it is unclear how the parietal cortices communicate with each other in order to support VWM processing. In two experiments we employed transcranial alternate current stimulation (tACS) to use frequency-specific (6 Hz) alternating current to modulate theta oscillation between the left and right parietal cortex with either in-phase (0° difference, Exp 1), anti-phase (180° difference, Exp 2), or sham sinusoidal current stimulation. In Experiment 1, in-phase theta tACS induced an improved VWM performance, but only in low-performers, whereas high-performers suffered a marginally-significant VWM impairment. In Experiment 2, anti-phase theta tACS did not help the low-performers, but significantly impaired high-performers' VWM capacity. These results not only provide causal evidence for theta oscillation in VWM processing, they also highlight the intricate interaction between tACS and individual differences - where the same protocol that enhances low-performers' VWM can backfire for the high-performers. We propose that signal complexity via coherent timing and phase synchronization within the bilateral parietal network is crucial for successful VWM functioning.
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