Humans can efficiently store fine-detailed facial emotional information in visual short-term memory for several seconds. However, an unresolved question is whether the same neural mechanisms underlie high-fidelity short-term memory for emotional expressions at different retention intervals. Here we show that retention interval affects the neural processes of short-term memory encoding using a delayed facial emotion discrimination task. The early sensory P100 component of the event-related potentials (ERP) was larger in the 1-s interstimulus interval (ISI) condition than in the 6-s ISI condition, whereas the face-specific N170 component was larger in the longer ISI condition. Furthermore, the memory-related late P3b component of the ERP responses was also modulated by retention interval: it was reduced in the 1-s ISI as compared with the 6-s condition. The present findings cannot be explained based on differences in sensory processing demands or overall task difficulty because there was no difference in the stimulus information and subjects' performance between the two different ISI conditions. These results reveal that encoding processes underlying high-precision short-term memory for facial emotional expressions are modulated depending on whether information has to be stored for one or for several seconds.
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