Event Related Potentials and EEG Components in a Semantic Memory Search Task

Axel Mecklinger, Arthur F. Kramer, David L. Strayer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examined the effects of memory search and related processes on both time and frequency domain components of electroencephalographic activity. More specifically, we were interested in the relationship between EEG and event‐related potential (ERP) components as a function of memory load and response type. Subjects performed a semantic memory search task in which they matched word probes to category labels. Consisten with previous studies, reaction time increased and accuracy decreased with increasing memory loads. A negative component of the ERP (N400) was found to reflect semantic mismatch: N400s were larger for the nontargets than for the targets. Two ERP components were found to be reciprocally related to memory load. P300 decreased and Negative Slow Wave increased in amplitude with increases in the size of the memory set. These two ERP components were reflected by different components in a Principal Components Analysis. The power in the theta band (5–7 Hz) also increased as a function of memory load and appears to be functionally and topographically related to the Negative Slow Wave in the ERP. It is argued that both measures are jointly determined and reflect the difficulty of the conceptual operations during memory search.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)104-119
Number of pages16
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1992


  • EEG components
  • Event related potentials
  • Memory search
  • N400
  • Negative Slow Wave
  • P300
  • Spectral analysis
  • Theta power

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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