Characterizing the dynamics of mental representations: the temporal generalization method

Trends Cogn Sci. 2014 Apr;18(4):203-10. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2014.01.002. Epub 2014 Mar 2.


Parsing a cognitive task into a sequence of operations is a central problem in cognitive neuroscience. We argue that a major advance is now possible owing to the application of pattern classifiers to time-resolved recordings of brain activity [electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography (MEG), or intracranial recordings]. By testing at which moment a specific mental content becomes decodable in brain activity, we can characterize the time course of cognitive codes. Most importantly, the manner in which the trained classifiers generalize across time, and from one experimental condition to another, sheds light on the temporal organization of information-processing stages. A repertoire of canonical dynamical patterns is observed across various experiments and brain regions. This method thus provides a novel way to understand how mental representations are manipulated and transformed.

Keywords: EEG; MEG; decoding; multivariate pattern analyses; parallel processing; serial processing; temporal generalization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Nonlinear Dynamics*