Timing of multiple overlapping intervals: how many clocks do we have?

Acta Psychol (Amst). 2008 Nov;129(3):365-75. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2008.09.002. Epub 2008 Oct 11.


Humans perceive and reproduce short intervals of time (e.g. 1-60s) relatively accurately, and are capable of timing multiple overlapping intervals if these intervals are presented in different modalities [e.g., Rousseau, L., & Rousseau, R. (1996). Stop-reaction time and the internal clock. Perception and Psychophysics, 58(3), 434-448]. Tracking multiple intervals can be explained either by assuming multiple internal clocks or by strategic arithmetic using a single clock. The underlying timescale (linear or nonlinear) qualitatively influences the predictions derived from these accounts, as assuming a nonlinear timescale introduces systematic errors in added or subtracted intervals. Here, we present two experiments that provide support for a single clock combined with a nonlinear underlying timescale. When two equal but partly overlapping time intervals had to be estimated, the second estimate was positively correlated with the stimulus onset asynchrony. This effect was also found in a second experiment with unequal intervals that showed evidence of subtraction of intervals. The findings were supported by computational models implemented in a previously validated account of interval timing [Taatgen, N. A., Van Rijn, H., & Anderson, J. R. (2007). An integrated theory of prospective time interval estimation: The role of cognition, attention and learning. Psychological Review, 114(3), 577-598].

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Color Perception
  • Decision Making
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Feedback
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nonlinear Dynamics
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time
  • Time Perception*
  • Young Adult