EEG alpha and theta signatures of socially and non-socially cued working memory in virtual reality

Samantha E A Gregory*, Hongfang Wang, Klaus Kessler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this preregistered study ( we investigated the behavioural and neurological [electroencephalography; alpha (attention) and theta (effort)] effects of dynamic non-predictive social and non-social cues on working memory. In a virtual environment realistic human-avatars dynamically looked to the left or right side of a table. A moving stick served as a non-social control cue. Kitchen items were presented in the valid cued or invalid un-cued location for encoding. Behavioural findings showed a similar influence of the cues on working memory performance. Alpha power changes were equivalent for the cues during cueing and encoding, reflecting similar attentional processing. However, theta power changes revealed different patterns for the cues. Theta power increased more strongly for the non-social cue compared to the social cue during initial cueing. Furthermore, while for the non-social cue there was a significantly larger increase in theta power for valid compared to invalid conditions during encoding, this was reversed for the social cue, with a significantly larger increase in theta power for the invalid compared to valid conditions, indicating differences in the cues’ effects on cognitive effort. Therefore, while social and non-social attention cues impact working memory performance in a similar fashion, the underlying neural mechanisms appear to differ.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Early online date24 Nov 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Funding: This work was supported by a Leverhulme Trust early career fellowship [ECF2018-130] awarded to S.E.A. Gregory.


  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Medicine


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