A Common Neural Progression to Meaning in About a Third of a Second

Kara D. Federmeier, Marta Kutas, Danielle S. Dickson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Delineating the neurobiology of language comprehension calls for an understanding of when and how (and not just where) inputs make contact with semantic memory (semantic access) to yield meaning. We examine this temporally extended function through the lens of event-related brain potentials (ERPs) measured to linguistic in comparison with nonlinguistic inputs, both in isolation and in larger language contexts. Extant data suggest remarkable consistency in the time course and nature of processing across input types: 150. ms for basic level (face, object, string) categorization and 150. ms more for perceptual grouping and generating a structured representation of individual items, followed by semantic access starting at about 300. ms. However, the presence of context information allows information to be activated in advance and creates expectancies at all levels of analysis that permit semantically yoked effects from the earliest levels of sensory processing and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNeurobiology of Language
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9780124078628
ISBN (Print)9780124077942
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • Context effects
  • Event-related potentials
  • Faces
  • N400
  • Prediction
  • Printed words
  • Semantic access
  • Spoken words
  • Visual objects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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