The N1 Wave of the Human Electric and Magnetic Response to Sound: A Review and an Analysis of the Component Structure


  • This paper was written while the authors were Fellows at the Neurosciences Institute of the Neurosciences Research Program in New York. We gratefully appreciate the support of the Institute and its staff during our stay in New York. On December 3–6, 1985. the Institute spunsored a meeting on the ‘Sources of Human Event-Related Potentials Recorded from the Scalp’ attended by Steven Hillyard, Lloyd Kaufman. Marta ICutas, Gregory McCarthy, Waller Ritter, Michael Scherg. Herbert Vaughan. Christopher Wood, and ourselves. The discussions during this meeting were very helpful to us in formulating The ideas that led to this paper. The authors also thank Riitta Hari, Steven Hillyard, Lloyd Kaufman, Norman Loveless, Patricia Michie, Walter Ritter. Mikko Sams, Michael Scherg, Eugen Sokolov. and Jonathan Wolpaw for perceptive and constructive comments on the manuscript.

Address requests for reprints to: Professor R. Näätänen, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Rilankatu 5, SF-00170 Helsinki 17, Finland.


This paper reviews the literature on the Nl wave of the human auditory evoked potential. It concludes that at least six different cerebral processes can contribute to (he negative wave recorded from the scalp with a peak latency between 50 and 150 ms: a component generated in the auditory-cortex on the supratemporal plane, a component generated in the association cortex on the lateral aspect of the temporal and parietal cortex, a component generated in the motor and premotor cortices, the mismatch negativity, a temporal component of the processing negativity, and a frontal component of the processing negativity, The first three, which can be considered ‘true’ N1 components, are controlled by the physical and temporal aspects of the stimulus and by the general state of the subject. The other three components are not necessarily elicited by a stimulus but depend on the conditions in which the stimulus occurs. They often last much longer than the true N1 components that they overlap.