Semantic processing of words, cognitive resources and N400: an event-related potentials study

Brain Cogn. 2003 Nov;53(2):327-30. doi: 10.1016/s0278-2626(03)00136-2.


The specificity of the right hemisphere (RH) contribution to the semantic processing of words is still debated. Indeed, the semantic impairments of right hemisphere damaged (RHD) subjects may be the expression of limited general cognitive resources rather than a specific impairment of semantic processing ([Monetta et al., 2001]; [Murray, 2000]). The purpose of this study was to evaluate the possibility that the N400 reflect the availability of cognitive resources through an analysis of its different amplitudes according to different semantic complexity level. Ten young adults without any history of neurological damage participated in a semantic categorization task with two different levels of difficulty based on prototypicality. Event related potential (ERP) signals from 64 electrodes were recorded. An N400 was observed during the processing of difficult words and distractors. The results show that the greatest N400 activation was observed during the processing of difficult words, thus reflecting a possible increase in the amount of required cognitive resources.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Semantics*
  • Vocabulary*