The brain response to auditory novelty comprises two main eeg components: an early mismatch negativity and a late P300. Whereas the former has been proposed to reflect a prediction error, the latter is often associated with working memory updating. Interestingly, these two proposals predict fundamentally different dynamics: prediction errors are thought to propagate serially through several distinct brain areas, while working memory supposes that activity is sustained over time within a stable set of brain areas. Here we test this temporal dissociation by showing how the generalization of brain activity patterns across time can characterize the dynamics of the underlying neural processes. This method is applied to magnetoencephalography (MEG) recordings acquired from healthy participants who were presented with two types of auditory novelty. Following our predictions, the results show that the mismatch evoked by a local novelty leads to the sequential recruitment of distinct and short-lived patterns of brain activity. In sharp contrast, the global novelty evoked by an unexpected sequence of five sounds elicits a sustained state of brain activity that lasts for several hundreds of milliseconds. The present results highlight how MEG combined with multivariate pattern analyses can characterize the dynamics of human cortical processes.