The N400 component of the human event-related brain potential appears to be related to violations of semantic expectancy during language comprehension. The present experiment investigated whether the N400 is related specifically to activity in a language system or is an index of a conceptual system that is accessed by both pictures and words. Sentences were visually presented one word at a time with the last word being replaced in one condition by a line drawing representing the same concept (eg, the word “socks” was replaced by a picture of socks). The N400 recorded in the Pictures Condition was found to be identical to the N400 generated by words in terms of amplitude, scalp distribution, and latency. These results suggest that the N400 is an index of activity in a conceptual memory that is accessed by both pictures and words.

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