The N400 is characterized by a distinct pattern of electrical activity that can be observed at the scalp. As its name indicates, this waveform peaks around 400 ms post-stimulus onset, with negativity that can be observed in the time window ranging from 250-500 ms. This latency (delay between stimulus and response) is very stable across tasks—little else besides age affects the timing of its peak. The N400 is a negative component, relative to reference electrodes placed on the mastoid processes (the bony ridge behind the ear), and relative to a 100 ms pre-stimulus baseline. Its amplitude can range from -5 to 5 microvolts. However, it is important to note that in studies using the N400 as a dependent measure, the relative amplitude of the waveform compared to another experimental condition (the "N400 effect") is more important than its absolute amplitude. The N400 itself is not always negative—it is just a more negative-going deflection than that seen to other conditions. Its distribution is maximal over centro-parietal electrode sites, and is slightly larger over the left side of the head for visual words, although the distribution can change slightly depending on the eliciting stimulus.
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