Do we have a common mechanism for measuring time in the hundreds of millisecond range? Evidence from multiple-interval timing tasks

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Feb;99(2):939-49. doi: 10.1152/jn.01225.2007. Epub 2007 Dec 19.


In the present study we examined the performance variability of a group of 13 subjects in eight different tasks that involved the processing of temporal intervals in the subsecond range. These tasks differed in their sensorimotor processing (S; perception vs. production), the modality of the stimuli used to define the intervals (M; auditory vs. visual), and the number of intervals (N; one or four). Different analytical techniques were used to determine the existence of a central or distributed timing mechanism across tasks. The results showed a linear increase in performance variability as a function of the interval duration in all tasks. However, this compliance of the scalar property of interval timing was accompanied by a strong effect of S, N, and M and the interaction between these variables on the subjects' temporal accuracy. Thus the performance variability was larger not only in perceptual tasks than that in motor-timing tasks, but also using visual rather than auditory stimuli, and decreased as a function of the number of intervals. These results suggest the existence of a partially overlapping distributed mechanism underlying the ability to quantify time in different contexts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*