, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 100-116

Perceptual and semantic sources of category-specific effects: Event-related potentials during picture and word categorization


In two experiments the effect of object category on event-related potentials (ERPs) was assessed while subjects performed superordinate categorizations with pictures and words referring to objects from natural (e.g., animal) and artifactual (e.g., tool) categories. First, a category probe was shown that was presented as name in Experiment 1 and as picture in Experiment 2. Thereafter, the target stimulus was displayed. In both experiments, analyses of the ERPs to the targets revealed effects of category at about 160 msec after target onset in the pictorial modality, which can be attributed to categoryspecific differences in perceptual processing. Later, between about 300-500 msec, natural and artifactual categories elicited similar ERP effects across target and category modalities. These findings suggest that perceptual as well as semantic sources contribute to category-specific effects. They support the view that semantic knowledge associated with different categories is represented in multiple subsystems that are similarly accessed by pictures and words.

This research greatly benefited from discussions with Manfred Spitzer, Klaus Fiedler, and Stanislas Dehaene.