My research explores the structure and cognition of drawings and visual narratives, like comics. In particular, my work argues that drawings and sequential images are structured and processed using similar principles and mechanisms as spoken and signed languages. My work explores these "visual languages" across all levels of structure. I use linguistic theory to detail how these systems are structured, and corpus analysis to examine how they differ across cultures. Finally, I use psychological methods of experimentation, primarily cognitive neuroscience (EEG), to examine how people's brains process individual and sequential images, and how graphics are integrated with text in multimodal relationships. I am currently writing and drawing a non-fiction graphic book about this research about  the relationship between graphic communication and language, and the multimodal connections between them.


My teaching focuses primarily on my areas of expertise within visual and multimodal communication. I teach the Visual Language bachelors course designed around my linguistic theories about visual communication. My masters courses further zoom in on areas of this research to focus on how we make meaning of text and image combined (Multimodal Communication with Joost Schilperoord) and how narratives are structured (Cognition of Visual Narratives). I also teach the research skills courses on EEG research, and on Visual Thinking and Composition, which teaches students basic drawing and visual communication skills.  



I maintain several collaborations across the world focusing on a variety of aspects of research on visual and multimodal communication. These include research on attention and eye-movements, multimodality, autism, prediction, second language learning, and education. I am open to collaborations for most all aspects of visual language research. For more information, see my website.

Top publications

  1. The Visual Language of Comics - Introduction to the Structure and Cog…

    Cohn, N. (2013). The Visual Language of Comics: Introduction to the Structure and Cognition of Sequential Images. Bloomsbury Academic.
  2. (Pea)nuts and bolts of visual narrative - structure and meaning in se…

    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.
  3. The grammar of visual narrative - Neural evidence for constituent str…

    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.
  4. Explaining 'I Can't Draw' - Parallels between the Structure and Devel…

    Cohn, N. (2012). Explaining 'I Can't Draw': Parallels between the Structure and Development of Language and Drawing. Human Development, 55(4), 167-192.
  5. What is your neural function, visual narrative conjunction? - Grammar…

    Cohn, N., & Kutas, M. (2017). What is your neural function, visual narrative conjunction? Grammar, meaning, and fluency in sequential image processing. Cognitive research: principles and implications, 2(1), 27.

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