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Mismatch negativity

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"Mismatch field" and "MMNM" redirect here.

The mismatch negativity (MMN) or mismatch field (MMF) is a component of the event-related potential (ERP) to an odd stimulus in a sequence of stimuli. It arises from electrical activity in the brain and is studied within the field of cognitive neuroscience and psychology. It can occur in any sensory system, but has most frequently been studied for audition and for vision. In the case of auditory stimuli, the MMN occurs after an infrequent change in a repetitive sequence of sounds (sometimes the entire sequence is called an oddball sequence.) For example, a rare deviant (d) sound can be interspersed among a series of frequent standard (s) sounds (e.g., s s s s s s s s s d s s s s s s d s s s d s s s s...). The deviant sound can differ from the standards in one or more perceptual features such as pitch, duration, or loudness. The MMN can be elicited regardless of whether the subject is paying attention to the sequence. During auditory sequences, a person can be reading or watching a silent subtitled movie, yet still show a clear MMN. In the case of visual stimuli, the MMN occurs after an infrequent change in a repetitive sequence of images.

MMN refers to the mismatch response in electroencephalography (EEG); MMF or MMNM refer to the mismatch response in magnetoencephalography (MEG).


The auditory MMN was discovered in 1978 by Risto Näätänen, A. W. K. Gaillard, and S. Mäntysalo at the Institute for Perception, TNO, Soesterberg, The Netherlands.[1]

The first report of a visual MMN was in 1990 by Rainer Cammer.[2] For a history of the development of the visual MMN, see Pazo-Alvarez et al. (2003).[3]


The MMN is a response to a deviant within a sequence of otherwise regular stimuli; thus, in an experimental setting, it is produced when stimuli are presented in a many-to-one ratio; for example, in a sequence of sounds s s s s s s s d s s s s d s s s..., the d is the deviant or oddball stimulus, and will elicit an MMN response. The mismatch negativity occurs even if the subject is not consciously paying attention to the stimuli.[1]

The auditory MMN can occur in response to deviance in pitch, intensity, or duration. The auditory MMN is a fronto-central negative potential with sources in the primary and non-primary auditory cortex and a typical latency of 150-250 ms after the onset of the deviant stimulus. Sources could also include one from the right opercular part of the inferior frontal gyrus. The amplitude and latency of the MMN is related to how different the deviant stimulus is from the standard. Large deviances elicit MMN at earlier latencies. For very large deviances, the MMN can even overlap the N100 (e.g., Campbell et al., 2007).[4]

The visual MMN can occur in response to deviance in such aspects as color, size, or duration. The visual MMN is an occipital negative potential with sources in the primary visual cortex and a typical latency of 150-250 ms after the onset of the deviant stimulus.

Neurolinguistics of MMN

As kindred phenomena have been elicited with speech stimuli, under passive conditions that require very little active attention to the sound, a version of MMN has been frequently used in studies of neurolinguistic perception, to test whether or not these participants neurologically distinguish between certain kinds of sounds.[5] In addition to these kinds of studies focusing on phonological processing, some research has implicated the MMN in syntactic processing.[6] Some of these studies have attempted to directly test the automaticity of the MMN, providing converging evidence for the understanding of the MMN as a task-independent and automatic response.[7]


The mainstream "memory trace" interpretation of MMN is that it is elicited in response to violations of simple rules governing the properties of information. It is thought to arise from violation of an automatically formed, short-term neural model or memory trace of physical or abstract environmental regularities (Näätänen & Winkler, 1999; Näätänen, Paavilainen, Rinne, & Alho 2007).[8][9] However, other than MMN, there is no other neurophysiological evidence for the formation of the memory representation of those regularities.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Integral to this memory trace view is that there are: i) a population of sensory afferent neuronal elements that respond to sound, and; ii) a separate population of memory neuronal elements that build a neural model of standard stimulation and respond more vigorously when the incoming stimulation violates that neural model, eliciting an MMN.

An alternative "fresh afferent" interpretation (Näätänen, 1992; Jääskeläinen et al., 2004)[10][11] is that there are no memory neuronal elements, but the sensory afferent neuronal elements that are tuned to properties of the standard stimulation respond less vigorously upon repeated stimulation. Thus when a deviant activates a distinct new population of neuronal elements that is tuned to the different properties of the deviant rather than the standard, these fresh afferents respond more vigorously, eliciting an MMN.

A third view is that the sensory afferents are the memory neurons (Ulanovsky, 2004; Jääskeläinen et al., 2007).[12][13]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Näätänen, R., Gaillard, A.W.K., & Mäntysalo, S. (1978). Early selective-attention effect on evoked potential reinterpreted. Acta Psychologica, 42, 313-329.
  2. Cammann, R. (1990). Is there no MMN in the visual modality? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 13, 234-234.
  3. Pazo-Alvarez, P., Cadaveira, F., & Amenedo, E. (2003). MMN in the visual modality: A review. Biological Psychology, 63, 199-236.
  4. Campbell, T.A., Winkler, I., & Kujala, T. (2007). N1 and the mismatch negativity are spatiotemporally distinct ERP components: Disruption of immediate memory by auditory distraction can be related to N1. Psychophysiology, 44, 530-540.
  5. Phillips, C., Pellathy, T., Marantz, A., Yellin, E., Wexler, K., McGinnis, M., Poeppel, D., & Roberts, T. (2001). Auditory Cortex Accesses Phonological Category: An MEG Mismatch Study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 12:6. 1038-1055.
  6. Pulvermüller, Friedemann; Yury Shtyrov (2007). "The mismatch negativity as an objective tool for studying higher language functions" Automaticity and Control in Language Processing, 217–242.
    Specific experimental studies include the following:
    • Hasting, Anna S., Sonja A. Kotz, and Angela D. Friederici (2007). Setting the Stage for Automatic Syntax Processing: The Mismatch Negativity as an Indicator of Syntactic Priming. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 19 (3): 386–400.
    • Hasting, Anna S., István Winkler, Sonja A. Kotz (2008). Early differential processing of verbs and nouns in the human brain as indexed by event-related brain potentials. European Journal of Neuroscience 27: 1561–1565.
    • Pulvermüller, Friedemann, Yury Shtyrov (2003). Automatic processing of grammar in the human brain as revealed by the mismatch negativity. NeuroImage 20.
    • Pulvermüller, Friedemann, Yury Shtyrov, Anna S. Hasting, Robert P. Carlyon (2008). Syntax as a reflex: Neurophysiological evidence for the early automaticity of syntactic processing. Brain and Language 104: 244–253.
  7. Pulvermüller, Friedemann, Yury Shtyrov, Anna S. Hasting, Robert P. Carlyon (2008). Syntax as a reflex: Neurophysiological evidence for the early automaticity of syntactic processing. Brain and Language 104: 244–253.
  8. Näätänen, R., Paavilainen, P., Rinne, T., & Alho, K. (2007). The mismatch negativity (MMN) in basic research of central auditory processing: A review. Clinical Neurophysiology, 118, 2544-2590.
  9. Näätänen, R., & Winkler, I. (1999). The concept of auditory stimulus representation in cognitive neuroscience. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 826-859.
  10. Näätänen, R. (1992). Attention and brain function. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  11. Jääskeläinen, I. P., Ahveninen, J., Bonmassar, G., Dale, A. M., Ilmoniemi, R. J., Levanen, S., et al. (2004). Human posterior auditory cortex gates novel sounds to consciousness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 101, 6809–6814.
  12. Ulanovsky, N. (2004). Neuronal adaptation in cat auditory cortex. Doctoral dissertation. Jerusalem, Israel: Hebrew University.
  13. Jääskeläinen, I.P., Ahveninen, J., Belliveau, J.W., Raij, T., Sams, M. (2007) Short-term plasticity in auditory cognition. Trends in Neurosciences, 30, 653-661.

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