The mismatch negativity to abstract relationship of tone pairs is independent of attention

Yi Fang Hsu, Chia An Tu, Yuchun Chen, Huei Mei Liu*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The mismatch negativity (MMN) implicating a comparison process between the deviant and the memory trace of the standard can be elicited by not only changes in physical features but also violations of abstract patterns. It is considered pre-attentive, yet the use of the passive design makes it difficult to exclude the possibility of attention leak. In contrast to how this issue has been well addressed with the MMN to physical changes, much less research directly investigated the attentional effect on the MMN to abstract relationships. Here we conducted an electroencephalography (EEG) experiment to study whether and how the MMN to abstract relationships is modulated by attention. We adapted the oddball paradigm of Kujala et al. by presenting occasional descending tone pairs among frequent ascending tone pairs, while additionally implementing a novel control of attention. Participants’ attention was either directed away from the sounds (with an engaging task of visual target detection, so that the sounds were task-irrelevant) or toward the sounds (with a conventional task of auditory deviant detection, so that the sounds were task-relevant). The MMN to abstract relationships appeared regardless of attention, confirming the pre-attentive assumption. The attention-independence of the frontocentral and supratemporal components of the MMN supported the notion that attention is not required to generate the MMN. At the individual level, a relatively equal number of participants showed attention enhancement and attention suppression. It is unlike the attentional modulation on the P3b, which was robustly elicited in the attended condition only. The concurrent collection of these two neurophysiological markers in both unattended and attended conditions might be potentially suitable for testing clinical populations showing heterogeneous deficits in auditory function independent/dependent of attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number9839
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Dec

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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