Objectives: The aim of the present study was to elucidate the reasons for apparent inconsistencies in the schizophrenia literature with respect to the mismatch negativity (MMN) waveform of the event-related potential (ERP). While most previous research has shown that MMN is reduced in schizophrenia, there are a small number of studies reporting that frequency MMN is not reduced.Methods: We recorded ERPs to auditory stimuli with different frequencies and durations from patients with schizophrenia (N = 14) and control subjects (N = 17) of similar age and sex. MMNs to small but discriminable frequency deviants were contrasted with large frequency deviants and duration deviants.Results: Only the MMN to duration deviants was significantly reduced in patients, although there was evidence of a similar trend for large frequency deviants.Conclusions: The results together with a review of the frequency MMN literature suggest that there are 3 variables which are important in determining whether patients exhibit a reduced MMN to frequency deviants: deviant probability, degree of deviance and interstimulus interval. The results also indicated that patients with schizophrenia may have particular deficits in processing the temporal properties of auditory stimuli. This finding has implications for the pathophysiology of the disorder as time-dependent processing is reliant on the integrity of an extensive network of brain areas consisting of auditory cortex, areas of pre-frontal cortex, the basal ganglia and cerebellum. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.