Finding Meaning: Semantics, Context and the N400


Naomi Cady

Faculty Mentor(s)

Ralf Greenwald (Psychology)


Semantic memory refers to a portion of long-term memory that processes ideas and concepts that are not drawn from personal experience. Research shows that information processing benefits from a priming effect for access to semantic memory. For example, seeing a certain word or gesture, can form a prediction of what will follow. Encountering information that is incongruent with this priming effect elicits the N400 brainwave. The N400 can be used to identify incongruency in sentences, gestures, and even facial expressions. However, there is emerging evidence that context given to even incongruent information has the effect of lessening the strength of the N400. To date, there has been very little research conducted in relation to context and its effect on the N400. This review will further evaluate the effect of contextual cues to incongruent information and examine the N400 brain wave in relation to semantic cognitive processing.

Keywords: N400, Context, Semantics


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