• Mismatch negativity (MMN);
  • Auditory event-related potentials;
  • Sound representation;
  • Change detection

In the present study we investigated the relationship between detecting violations of structural regularities of tone sequences and detecting deviations from temporal regularities or repetitive spectral auditory stimulus features. Twelve subjects were presented with randomized sequences of two tones (differing both in frequency and intensity) delivered alternately to the left and right ears at a constant stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). In separate blocks, occasional deviant stimuli broke one, two, or three of the following regularities: spatial alternation, the constancy of SOA, or the dominant frequency-intensity conjunctions. Unlike the mismatch negativity (MMN) elicited by alternation-plus-SOA deviants, the MMN elicited by alternation-plus-conjunction deviants was approximately equal to the sum of the two corresponding single-deviant MMNs. These results suggest that the preattentive change-detection system processes infrequent violations of the structural regularities of sound sequences together with changes in temporal regularities, but separately from changes in repetitive spectral sound features. The MMN elicited by the triple-deviant stimuli corroborated these conclusions.