Investigating the multimodal nature of human communication: Insights from ERPs

Silke Paulmann*, Sarah Jessen, Sonja A. Kotz

*Corresponding author for this work
39 Citations (Scopus)


The multimodal nature of human communication has been well established. Yet few empirical studies have systematically examined the widely held belief that this form of perception is facilitated in comparison to unimodal or bimodal perception. In the current experiment we first explored the processing of unimodally presented facial expressions. Furthermore, auditory (prosodic and/or lexical-semantic) information was presented together with the visual information to investigate the processing of bimodal (facial and prosodic cues) and multimodal (facial, lexic, and prosodic cues) human communication. Participants engaged in an identity identification task, while event-related potentials (ERPs) were being recorded to examine early processing mechanisms as reflected in the P200 and N300 component. While the former component has repeatedly been linked to physical property stimulus processing, the latter has been linked to more evaluative "meaning-related" processing. A direct relationship between P200 and N300 amplitude and the number of information channels present was found. The multimodal-channel condition elicited the smallest amplitude in the P200 and N300 components, followed by an increased amplitude in each component for the bimodal-channel condition. The largest amplitude was observed for the unimodal condition. These data suggest that multimodal information induces clear facilitation in comparison to unimodal or bimodal information. The advantage of multimodal perception as reflected in the P200 and N300 components may thus reflect one of the mechanisms allowing for fast and accurate information processing in human communication.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Psychophysiology
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)63-76
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 17.09.2009

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)


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