Hebb's concept of cell assemblies an the psychophysiology of word processing



    Corresponding author
    1. Institut für Medizinische, Psychologie und Verhaltensneurobiologie, Universität Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany
    Search for more papers by this author

  • This is the revised version of a talk given at the 35th Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research in Toronto, Canada. The research summarized would not have been possible without the continuous support by the following colleagues: Niels Birbaumer, Valentino Braitenberg, Werner Lutzenberger, Bettina Mohr, and Hubert Preißl. I thank all of them for extremely effective cooperation. For comments on earlier versions of this paper, I am grateful to John Cacioppo and to two anonymous referes. This research was made posible by a Hersenberg fellowship and grant Pu 97/2 of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

Address reprint requests to: Priv.-Doz, Dr. Friedemann Pulvermuller, Institut fur Medizinische, Psychologie und Verhaltensncurobiologie, University Tubingen, 72074 Tübingen, Germany, E-mail: pumue@uni-tuebingen.de.


Hebb's brain-theoretical approach suggests that tightly connected networks of neurons, Hebbian cell assemblies, are the building blocks of cognitive functions. These assemblies are not necessarily restricted to a small cortical locus but may be dispersed over distant cortical areas. Assemblies with different topographies can be postulated for different kinds of words, such as meaningful content versus grammatical function words or words eliciting motor versus visual associations. Evidence from evoked potentials and gamma-band electrocortical responses elicited by lexical material supports a cell assembly model of language and other higher cognitive functions.