Event-related potentials (ERPS) in schizophrenics have been reported to show a reduced P3 on the left and less frontal mismatch negativity (MMN). But the specificity of such findings to component, its locus, the type of eliciting event and patient group remains uncertain. Hence, we examined ERP topography for P3, N2 and 3 precursor peaks according to stimulus (3-tone oddball), attention condition (diffuse/focused) and four types of difference-waves. We contrasted 24 healthy and 13 OCD subjects with schizophrenic patients with high versus low ratings of active delusions and hallucinations (12 paranoid-hallucinatory, PH; 12 nonparanoid, NP). P3 peaks were delayed and reduced in NP and PH groups. Midline peaks were usual in focused attention and a right bias in diffuse attention. P3 responses to irrelevant standards remained lateral in NP and small in OCD patients. All showed a small left and anterior bias in the P3-like peak in difference-waves. Mismatch negativity waveform (MMN) peaks shifted to the right in OCD, to both sides in PH and posteriorly in NP patients. Frontal processing negativity was biased to the left (early) in NP and to the right (late) in PH groups. Early peak topography reflected some later changes (e.g. PH and NP groups; Pi-like peak, right bias absent; N1-like peak depressed and widely distributed: NP group, P2-like peak smaller on the left). In OCD patients, peak latencies were topographically undifferentiated (P1, P2) or delayed (N2). The OCD group showed an unusual regional allocation of processing effort. Before 200 ms frontocentral activity was more widespread in PH and NP groups. Lateralization of negativity in target- and nontarget-derived difference-waves may reflect differential disruption of the frontal-temporal dialogue in registering important vs unimportant features. NP patients, in particular, treated irrelevant stimuli anomalously.