In addition to quantitative individual differences in working memory (WM) capacity, qualitative aspects, such as enhanced sensory modality (modality dominance), can characterize individual WM ability. This study aimed to examine the neurological basis underlying the individual modality dominance component of WM using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). To quantify the degree of individual WM modality dominance, 24 participants were required to find seven hidden targets and hold their spatial location and appearance order with vibrotactile or visual stimuli aids. In this searching task, eight participants demonstrated higher performance with the tactile condition (tactile-dominant) whereas sixteen demonstrated visual dominance. We then measured prefrontal activity by fNIRS during memorization of visual stimulus numbers while finger tapping as a cognitive-motor dual-task. Individual modality dominance significantly correlated with bilateral frontopolar and dorsolateral prefrontal activity changes over repeated fNIRS sessions. In particular, individuals with stronger visual dominance showed marked decreases in prefrontal area activity. These results suggest that distinct processing patterns in the prefrontal cortex reflect an individual’s qualitative WM characteristics. Considering the individual modality dominance underlying the prefrontal areas could enhance cognitive or motor performance, possibly by optimizing cognitive resources.
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