• auditory evoked potential;
  • event-related potential;
  • high-density electrical mapping;
  • human;
  • mismatch negativity;
  • streaming


Segregation of auditory inputs into meaningful acoustic groups is a key element of auditory scene analysis. Previously, we showed that two interwoven sets of tones differing widely along multiple feature dimensions (duration, pitch and location) were pre-attentively separated into different groups, and that tones separated in this manner did not elicit the mismatch negativity component with respect to each other. Grouping was studied with human subjects using a stimulus rate too slow to induce streaming. Here, we varied the separation of tone sequences along a single feature dimension, i.e. frequency. Frequency differences were either 24 Hz (small) or 1054 Hz (large). Two relatively slow stimulus rates were used (2.7 or 1 tone/s) to explicitly investigate grouping outside the so-called ‘streaming effect’, which requires rates of about 4 tones/s or faster. Two tones were presented in a quasi-random manner with embedded trains of one to four identical tones in a row. Deviants were defined as frequency switches after trains of four identical tones. Mismatch negativity was only elicited for small frequency switches at the slower stimulation rate. The data indicate that pre-attentive grouping of tones occurred when the frequency difference that separated them was large, regardless of stimulation rate. For small frequency differences, inputs were only grouped separately when the stimulation rate was relatively fast.