Thirty years and counting: Finding meaning in the N400 component of the event-related brain potential (ERP)

Marta Kutas, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

We review the discovery, characterization, and evolving use of the N400, an event-related brain potential response linked to meaning processing. We describe the elicitation of N400s by an impressive range of stimulus typesincluding written, spoken, and signed words or pseudowords; drawings, photos, and videos of faces, objects, and actions; sounds; and mathematical symbolsand outline the sensitivity of N400 amplitude (as its latency is remarkably constant) to linguistic and nonlinguistic manipulations. We emphasize the effectiveness of the N400 as a dependent variable for examining almost every aspect of language processing and highlight its expanding use to probe semantic memory and to determine how the neurocognitive system dynamically and flexibly uses bottom-up and top-down information to make sense of the world. We conclude with different theories of the N400's functional significance and offer an N400-inspired reconceptualization of how meaning processing might unfold.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)621-647
Number of pages27
JournalAnnual review of psychology
Volume62
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 10 2011

Keywords

  • context effects
  • language
  • memory
  • nonlinguistic stimuli
  • priming
  • timing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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