Event-Related Potentials

Event-related potential

An event-related potential (ERP) is any stereotyped electrophysiological response to an internal or external stimulus. More simply, it is any measured brain response that is directly the result of a thought or perception.


ERPs can be reliably measured using electroencephalography (EEG), a procedure that measures electrical activity of the brain through the skull and scalp. As the EEG reflects thousands of simultaneously ongoing brain processes, the brain response to a certain stimulus or event of interest is usually not visible in the EEG. One of the most robust features of the ERP response is a response to unpredictable stimuli. This response-known as the P300 (or simply "P3")-manifests as a positive deflection in voltage approximately 300 milliseconds after the stimulus is presented.

In actual recording situations, it is difficult to see an ERP after the presentation of a single stimulus. Rather the most robust ERPs are seen after many dozens or hundreds of individual presentations are averaged together. This technique cancels out noise in the data allowing only the voltage response to the stimulus to stand out clearly.

While evoked potentials reflect the processing of the physical stimulus, event-related potentials are caused by the "higher" processes, that might involve memory, expectation, attention, or changes in the mental state, among others.


Though some ERP components are referred to with acronyms (e.g., left anterior negativity - LAN), most components are referred to by a preceding letter indicating polarity followed by the typical latency in milliseconds. Thus, the N400 ERP component is described as a negative voltage deflection occurring approximately 400ms after stimulus onset, whereas the P600 component describes a positive voltage deflection 600ms after stimulus onset. The stated latencies for ERP components are often quite variable; for example, the N400 component may exhibit a latency between 300ms - 500ms.

Clinical ERP

Physicians and neurologists will sometimes use a flashing visual checkerboard stimulus to test for any damage or trauma in the visual system. In a healthy person, this stimulus will elicit a strong response over the primary visual cortex located in the occipital lobe in the back of the brain.

Research ERP

Experimental psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered many different stimuli, which elicit reliable EEG ERPs from participants. The timing of these responses is thought to provide a measure of the timing of the brain's communication or time of information processing. For example, in the checkerboard paradigm described above, in healthy participants the first response of the visual cortex is around 50-70 msec. This would seem to indicate that this is the amount of time it takes for the transduced visual stimulus to reach the cortex after light first enters the eye. Alternatively, the P300 response occurs at around 300ms regardless of the stimulus presented: visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, etc. Because of this general invariance in regard to stimulus type, this ERP is understood to reflect a higher cognitive response to unexpected and/or cognitively salient stimuli.

Due to the consistency of the P300 response to novel stimuli, a brain-computer interface can be constructed which relies on it. By arranging many signals in a grid, randomly flashing the rows of the grid as in the previous paradigm, and observing the P300 responses of a subject staring at the grid, the subject may communicate which stimulus he is looking at, and thus slowly "type" words.


  • Steven J. Luck: An Introduction to the Event-Related Potential Technique. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2005. ISBN 0262621967
  • Todd C. Handy: Event-Related Potentials : A Methods Handbook. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press (B&T), 2004. ISBN 0262083337
  • Monica Fabiani, Gabriele Gratton, and Kara D. Federmeier: Event-Related Brain Potentials : Methods, Theory, and Applications. In: Handbook of Psychophysiology / ed. by John T. Cacioppo, Louis G. Tassinary, and Gary G. Berntson. 3rd. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-521-84471-0. pp. 85-119

See also

Search another word or see Event-Related Potentialson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature