Skip to content

Appendix III: Hierarchical Event Descriptor (HED) Tags

HED is a controlled vocabulary of terms describing events in a behavioral paradigm. HED was originally developed with EEG in mind, but is applicable to all behavioral experiments. Each level of a hierarchical tag is delimited with a forward slash (/). An HED string contains one or more HED tags separated by commas (,). Parentheses (brackets, ()) group tags and enable specification of multiple items and their attributes in a single HED string (see section 2.4 in HED Tagging Strategy Guide). For more information about HED and tools available to validate and match HED strings, please visit Since dedicated fields already exist for the overall task classification in the sidecar JSON files (CogAtlasID and CogPOID), HED tags from the Paradigm HED subcategory should not be used to annotate events.

There are several ways to associate HED annotations with events within the BIDS framework. The most direct way is to use the HED column of the _events.tsv file to annotate events:


onset   duration    HED
1.1 n/a Event/Category/Experimental stimulus, Event/Label/CrossFix,  Sensory presentation/Visual, Item/Object/2D Shape/Cross
1.3 n/a Event/Category/Participant response, Event/Label/ButtonPress, Action/Button press

The direct approach requires that each line in the events file must be annotated. Since there are typically thousands of events in each experiment, this method of annotation is usually not convenient unless the annotations are automatically generated. In many experiments, the event instances fall into a much smaller number of categories, and often these categories are labeled with numerical codes or short names. It is therefore more convenient to associate the HED annotations with these categories and allow the analysis tools to make the association with individual event instances during analysis. To use this approach, your _events.tsv file should associate a category (often called an event code) with each event instance. Since BIDS allows an arbitrary number of columns to be included in an _events.tsv file, you can make this association by including columns representing various types of event categories in your _events.tsv file.


onset   duration    mycodes
1.1 n/a Fixation  
1.3 n/a Button
1.8 n/a Target

If you provide an _events.json file somewhere in your data hierarchy that has an HED mapping for mycodes, the HED tags associated with a given mycodes value can then be associated with the event instances in that category. You may provide a HED column and multiple category columns. The union of the relevant HED tags will then be associated with the event instance.


    "mycodes": {
        "HED": {
            "Fixation": "Event/Category/Experimental stimulus, Event/Label/CrossFix, Event/Description/A cross appears at screen center to serve as a fixation point, Sensory presentation/Visual, Item/Object/2D Shape/Cross, Attribute/Visual/Fixation point, Attribute/Visual/Rendering type/Screen, Attribute/Location/Screen/Center",
            "Target": "Event/Label/Target image, Event/Description/A white airplane as the RSVP target superimposed on a satellite image is displayed., Event/Category/Experimental stimulus, (Item/Object/Vehicle/Aircraft/Airplane, Participant/Effect/Cognitive/Target, Sensory presentation/Visual/Rendering type/Screen/2D), (Item/Natural scene/Arial/Satellite, Sensory presentation/Visual/Rendering type/Screen/2D)",
            "Button": "..."

The tags in the HED column are often specific to the event instances, while the common properties associated with categories such as mycodes are encapsulated in the _events.json dictionary. Downstream tools should not distinguish between tags specified using the different mechanisms. Further, the normal BIDS inheritance rules apply so these data dictionaries can appear higher in the BIDS hierarchy.