The possibility that the visual system is able to register unattended changes is still debated in the literature. However, it is difficult to understand how a sensory system becomes aware of unexpected salient changes in the environment if attention is required for detecting them. The ability to automatically detect unusual changes in the sensory environment is an adaptive function which has been confirmed in other sensory modalities (i.e. audition). This deviance detector mechanism has proven to be based on a preattentive nonrefractory memory-comparison process. To investigate whether such automatic change detection mechanism exists in the human visual system, we recorded event-related potentials to sudden changes in a biologically important feature, motion direction. Unattended sinusoidal gratings varying in motion direction in the peripheral field were presented while subjects performed a central task with two levels of difficulty. We found a larger negative displacement in the electrophysiological response elicited by less frequent stimuli (deviant) at posterior scalp locations. Within the latency range of the visual evoked component N2, this differential response was elicited independently of the direction of motion and processing load. Moreover, the results showed that the negativity elicited by deviants was not related to a differential refractory state between the electrophysiological responses to frequent and infrequent directions of motion, and that it was restricted to scalp locations related to motion processing areas. The present results suggest that a change-detection mechanism sensitive to unattended changes in motion direction may exist in the human visual system.