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Keywords:

  • Mismatch negativity (MMN);
  • Auditory evoked potentials;
  • Temporal probability;
  • Sequential probability;
  • Auditory context;
  • Global sound characteristics

Abstract

In the auditory oddball paradigm, the frequent occurrence of a sound (the “standard”) forms the basis of deviance detection. The incoming sounds are compared with the cortical representation of the standard and those sounds that do not match it elicit the mismatch negativity (MMN) event-related brain potential. Here we address the issue of whether the relative probability of the sounds in a sequence was a critical factor influencing which sounds would be represented as standards in the deviant comparison process. One frequent (F1) and two infrequent (D1 and D2) sounds that differed only in duration were presented in a sequence. D1 occurred proportionally as frequently with respect to D2 as F1 occurred with respect to D1. If the proportional relationship of sounds were critical then D1 could serve as a “standard” to D2 and thus D2 should elicit two MMNs. However, D2 elicited MMN only with respect to F1. This result as well as those obtained in two control conditions suggests that “standards” are not established on the basis of relative probability; they emerge as a result of global characteristics, the longer-term context, of the sound sequence.