Centrum för kognitiv semiotik (CCS)

Humanistiska och teologiska fakulteterna | Lunds universitet

The Structure and Cognition of Visual Narrative

Neil Cohn (Tilburg University)

Just how is it that our brains understand the drawings and sequential images found in visual narratives like comics? Building on contemporary theories from cognitive science, I will present a provocative theory: that the structure and cognition of drawings and sequential images is similar to language. This talk will focus on the structural principles of the “narrative grammar” that underlies sequential image understanding. It will cover the basic principles of this structure, what cross-cultural research shows us about diverse visual languages of the world, and what cognitive neuroscience reveals about the processing of visual narratives. Altogether, this work explores emerging research from the linguistic and cognitive sciences that challenges conventional wisdom with a new paradigm of thinking about the connections between language and graphic communication.


Selected bibliography


Cohn, N. (2013a). The visual language of comics: Introduction to the structure and cognition of sequential images. London, UK: Bloomsbury.


Cohn, N. (2013b). Visual narrative structure. Cognitive Science, 37(3), 413-452. doi:10.1111/cogs.12016


Cohn, N. (2014). You’re a good structure, Charlie Brown: The distribution of narrative categories in comic strips. Cognitive Science, 38(7), 1317-1359. doi:10.1111/cogs.12116


Cohn, N. (2015). Narrative conjunction’s junction function: The interface of narrative grammar and semantics in sequential images. Journal of Pragmatics, 88, 105-132. doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2015.09.001


Cohn, N., Jackendoff, R., Holcomb, P. J., & Kuperberg, G. R. (2014). The grammar of visual narrative: Neural evidence for constituent structure in sequential image comprehension. Neuropsychologia, 64, 63-70. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.09.018


Cohn, N., & Kutas, M. (2015). Getting a cue before getting a clue: Event-related potentials to inference in visual narrative comprehension. Neuropsychologia, 77, 267-278. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2015.08.026


Cohn, N., & Maher, S. (2015). The notion of the motion: The neurocognition of motion lines in visual narratives. Brain Research, 1601, 73-84. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2015.01.018


Cohn, N., & Paczynski, M. (2013). Prediction, events, and the advantage of Agents: The processing of semantic roles in visual narrative. Cognitive Psychology, 67(3), 73-97. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2013.07.002


Cohn, N., Paczynski, M., Jackendoff, R., Holcomb, P. J., & Kuperberg, G. R. (2012). (Pea)nuts and bolts of visual narrative: Structure and meaning in sequential image comprehension. Cognitive Psychology, 65(1), 1-38. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2012.01.003

Visual Language Lab • The website of Neil Cohn

Visual language Lab: Researching the structure and cognition of the visual language of comics