N400 ERPs for actions: building meaning in context

Lucia Amoruso, Carlos Gelormini, Francisco Aboitiz, Miguel Alvarez González, Facundo Manes, Juan Cardona, Agustin Ibanez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

95 Citations (Scopus)


Converging neuroscientific evidence suggests the existence of close links between language and sensorimotor cognition. Accordingly, during the comprehension of meaningful actions, our brain would recruit semantic-related operations similar to those associated with the processing of language information. Consistent with this view, electrophysiological findings show that the N400 component, traditionally linked to the semantic processing of linguistic material, can also be elicited by action-related material. This review outlines recent data from N400 studies that examine the understanding of action events. We focus on three specific domains, including everyday action comprehension, co-speech gesture integration, and the semantics involved in motor planning and execution. Based on the reviewed findings, we suggest that both negativities (the N400 and the action-N400) reflect a common neurocognitive mechanism involved in the construction of meaning through the expectancies created by previous experiences and current contextual information. To shed light on how this process is instantiated in the brain, a testable contextual fronto-temporo-parietal model is proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number57
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Action comprehension
  • Action meaning
  • Contextual integration
  • Fronto-temporo-parietal network
  • Language
  • N400


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