Event-related potentials were recorded from 537 sites in the superior temporal plane and parietal lobe of 41 patients. Depth electrodes were implanted to localize seizure origin prior to surgical treatment. Subjects received an auditory discrimination task with target and non-target rare stimuli ("standard oddball paradigm"). In some cases, the target, distracting and frequent tones were completely balanced across blocks for pitch and volume. Variants included an analogous visual discrimination task, or auditory tasks where the rare target event was the omission of a tone, or the repetition of a tone within a series of alternating tones. In some subjects, the same auditory stimuli were delivered but the patient ignored them while reading. Three general response patterns could be distinguished on the basis of their wave forms, latencies and task correlates. First, potentials apparently related to rarity per se, as opposed to differences in sensory characteristics, or in habituation, were observed in the posterior superior temporal plane, beginning with a large positivity superimposed on early components. This positivity peaked at 150 msec after stimulus onset and inverted in sites superior to the Sylvian fissure. Subsequent components could be large, focal and/or inverting in polarity, and usually included a positivity at 230 msec and a negativity at 330 msec. All components in this area were specific to the auditory modality. Second, in the posterior cingulate and supramarginal gyri, a sharp triphasic negative-positive-negative wave form with peaks at about 210-300-400 msec was observed. This wave form was of relatively small amplitude and diffuse, and seldom inverted in polarity. It was multimodal but most prominent to auditory stimuli, appeared to remain when the stimuli were ignored, and was not apparent to repeated words and faces. Third, a broad, often monophasic, wave form peaking at about 380 msec was observed in the superior parietal lobe, similar to that which has been recorded in the hippocampus. This wave form could be of large amplitude, often highly focal, and could invert over short distances. It was equal to visual and auditory stimuli and was also evoked by repeating words and faces. The early endogenous activity in auditory cortex may embody activity that is antecedent to the other patterns in multimodal association cortex. The "triphasic" pattern may embody a diffuse non-specific orienting response that is also reflected in the scalp P3a. The later broad pattern may embody the cognitive closure that is also reflected in the scalp P3b or late positive component.