The mismatch negativity (MMN) response, a passively-elicited component of the auditory event-related potential (ERP), reflects preattentive identification of infrequent changes in acoustic stimuli. In the current study, the MMN response was examined closely to determine what extent natural speech sounds evoke the MMN. It was hypothesized that a significant MMN response results during the presentation of deviant stimuli from which spectral energy within formant bands critical to vowel identification has been removed. Localizations of dipoles within the cortex were hypothesized to yield information pertaining to the processing of formant-specific linguistic information. A same/different discrimination task was administered to 20 adult participants (10 female and 10 male) between the ages of 18 and 26 years. Data from behavioral responses and ERPs were recorded. Results demonstrated that the MMN may be evoked by natural speech sounds. Grand-averaged brain maps of ERPs created for all stimulus pairs showed a large preattentive negativity. Additionally, amplitudes of the MMN were greatest for pairs of auditory stimuli in which spectral energy not corresponding to formant frequencies was digitally eliminated. Dipoles reconstructed from temporal ERP data were located in cortical areas known to support language and auditory processing. Significant differences between stimulus type and reaction time were also noted. The current investigation confirms that the MMN response is evoked by natural speech sounds and provides evidence for a theory of preattentive formant-based processing of speech sounds.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Communication Disorders



Date Submitted


Document Type





electroencephalography, event-related potentials, mismatch negativity, brain mapping, scalp distribution, formants, formant processing, dipole localization