Since its inception in the 1970s, the mismatch negativity (MMN) event-related potential has improved our understanding of pre-attentive detection of rule violations, which is a fundamental cognitive process considered by some a form of “primitive intelligence”. The body of research to date ranges from animal studies (i.e. when investigating the neural mechanisms and pharmacological properties of MMN generation) to researching the psychophysiological nature of human consciousness. MMN therefore offers the possibility to detect abnormal functioning in the neural system involved in MMN generation, such as it occurs in some neurodevelopmental disorders or patients in vegetative state. While the clinical research data holds considerable promise for translation into clinical practice, standardization and normative data of an optimized (i.e. disorder-specific) MMN recording algorithm is needed in order for MMN to become a valuable clinical investigation tool.