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Open Access Research article

Looking for a pattern: An MEG study on the abstract mismatch negativity in musicians and nonmusicians

Sibylle C Herholz, Claudia Lappe and Christo Pantev*

Author Affiliations

Institute for Biomagnetism and Biosignalanalysis, University of Münster, Malmedyweg 15, D-48149 Münster, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-42

Published: 30 April 2009



The mismatch negativity (MMN) is an early component of event-related potentials/fields, which can be observed in response to violations of regularities in sound sequences. The MMN can be elicited by simple feature (e.g. pitch) deviations in standard oddball paradigms as well as by violations of more complex sequential patterns. By means of magnetoencephalography (MEG) we investigated if a pattern MMN could be elicited based on global rather than local probabilities and if the underlying ability to integrate long sequences of tones is enhanced in musicians compared to nonmusicians.


A pattern MMN was observed in response to violations of a predominant sequential pattern (AAAB) within a standard oddball tone sequence consisting of only two different tones. This pattern MMN was elicited even though the probability of pattern deviants in the sequence was as high as 0.5. Musicians showed more leftward-lateralized pattern MMN responses, which might be due to a stronger specialization of the ability to integrate information in a sequence of tones over a long time range.


The results indicate that auditory grouping and the probability distribution of possible patterns within a sequence influence the expectations about upcoming tones, and that the MMN might also be based on global statistical knowledge instead of a local memory trace. The results also show that auditory grouping based on sequential regularities can occur at a much slower presentation rate than previously presumed, and that probability distributions of possible patterns should be taken into account even for the construction of simple oddball sequences.