Connecting and considering: Electrophysiology provides insights into comprehension

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to rapidly and systematically access knowledge stored in long-term memory in response to incoming sensory information—that is, to derive meaning from the world—lies at the core of human cognition. Research using methods that can precisely track brain activity over time has begun to reveal the multiple cognitive and neural mechanisms that make this possible. In this article, I delineate how a process of connecting affords an effortless, continuous infusion of meaning into human perception. In a relatively invariant time window, uncovered through studies using the N400 component of the event-related potential, incoming sensory information naturally induces a graded landscape of activation across long-term semantic memory, creating what might be called “proto-concepts”. Connecting can be (but is not always) followed by a process of further considering those activations, wherein a set of more attentionally demanding “active comprehension” mechanisms mediate the selection, augmentation, and transformation of the initial semantic representations. The result is a limited set of more stable bindings that can be arranged in time or space, revised as needed, and brought to awareness. With this research, we are coming closer to understanding how the human brain is able to fluidly link sensation to experience, to appreciate language sequences and event structures, and, sometimes, to even predict what might be coming up next.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13940
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • attention
  • ERPs
  • language comprehension
  • meaning
  • N400

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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