A starring role for inference in the neurocognition of visual narratives

Neil Cohn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Research in verbal and visual narratives has often emphasized backward-looking inferences, where absent information is subsequently inferred. However, comics use conventions like star-shaped "action stars" where a reader knows events are undepicted at that moment, rather than omitted entirely. We contrasted the event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to visual narratives depicting an explicit event, an action star, or a "noise" panel of scrambled lines. Both action stars and noise panels evoked large N400s compared to explicit-events (300-500 ms), but action stars and noise panels then differed in their later effects (500-900 ms). Action stars elicited sustained negativities and P600s, which could indicate further interpretive processes and integration of meaning into a mental model, while noise panels evoked late frontal positivities possibly indexing that they were improbable narrative units. Nevertheless, panels following action stars and noise panels both evoked late sustained negativities, implying further inferential processing. Inference in visual narratives thus uses cascading mechanisms resembling those in language processing that differ based on the inferential techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages14
JournalCognitive research: principles and implications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2021


  • Visual language
  • Inference
  • Visual narrative
  • Discourse
  • Comics


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