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Open Access Research article

Neuromagnetic brain responses to words from semantic sub- and supercategories

Ramin Assadollahi* and Brigitte Rockstroh

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz, P.O. Box D23 D-78457 Konstanz, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2005, 6:57  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-6-57

Published: 31 August 2005



We explored spatio-temporal patterns of cortical activity evoked by written words from super-ordinate and sub-ordinate semantic categories and hoped to find a differential cortical and/or temporal distribution of the brain response depending on the level of the categories. Twenty-three subjects saw 360 words belonging to six sub-ordinate categories (mammals, birds, fish, fruit, flowers, trees) within two super-ordinate categories (fauna, flora). Visually evoked magnetic fields were determined from whole-head (148-sensor) magnetoencephalography and analyzed in the source space (Minimum Norm Estimate).


Activity (MNE amplitudes) 100–150 ms after stimulus onset in the left occipito-temporal area distinguished super-ordinate categories, while later activity (300–550 ms) in the left temporal area distinguished the six sub-ordinate categories.


Our results document temporally and spatially distinct processing and representation of words according to their categorical information. If further studies can rule out possible confounds then our results may help constructing a theory about the internal structure of entries in the mental lexicon and its access.