Modern Mind-Brain Reading: Psychophysiology, Physiology, and Cognition


  • This paper is based on a Presidential Address to the Twenty-Eighth Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research in San Francisco, October 1988. Preparation of the manuscript was supported, in part, by grant #MH41445 from NIMH. I would like to acknowledge the colleaboration of colleagues at the University of Illinois: Ritske De Jong, Emanuel Donchin, Charles Erik-sen, Monica Fabiani, Bill Gehring, Gabriele Gratton, Gordon Logan, and Erik Sirevaag. The ideas discussed in the paper have also benefitted from interactions with Ted Bashore, Mireille Besson, Jasper Brener, Kees Brunia, Jean Buckley, Tony Gaillard, Danny Gopher, Earle Heffley, Steve Hillyard, Skip Johnson, George Karmos, Art Kramer, Marta Kutas, Dave Meyer, Greg Miller, Jeff Miller, Bert Mulder, Jean Requin, Mick Rugg, Andries Sanders, Rich Schweikert, Dave Strayer, Allen Osman, and Chris Wickens. In addition, Marie Banich, Jim Davis, Joanne Fetzner, Bill Greenough, Bob Hendersen, Dick Jennings, and Walter Ritter made helpful comments on various drafts of the manuscript. Finally, I would like to thank Tony Gale, for stimulating my interest in psychophysilogy, John and Beatrice Lacey and Frances Graham, for their advice and encouragement during my early years in the field, the late Paul Obrist, for reminding me of the importance of underlying mechanisms, and Emauel Donchin for introducing me to the mysteries of the event-related brain potential.

Address request for reprints to: Michael G. H. Coles, Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, 603 East Daniel, Champaign, Illinois 61820.


This paper reviews the actual and potential benefits of a marriage between cognitive psychology and psychophysiology. Psychophysiological measures, particularly those of the event-related brain potential, can be used as markers for psychological events and physiological events. Thus, they can serve as “windows’ on the mind and as “windows’ on the brain. These ideas are illustrated in the context of a series of studies utilizing the lateralized readiness potential, a measure of electrical brain activity that is related to preparation for movement. This measure has been used to illuminate presetting processes that prepare the motor system for action, to demonstrate the presence of the transmission of partial information in the cognitive system, and to identify processes responsible for the inhibition of responses. The lateralized readiness potential appears to reflect activity in motor areas of cortex. Thus, this measure, along with other psychophysiological measures, can be used to understand how the functions of the mind are implemented in the brain potential.