How voluntary actions modulate time perception

Exp Brain Res. 2009 Jul;196(3):311-8. doi: 10.1007/s00221-009-1848-8. Epub 2009 May 27.


Distortions of time perception are generally explained either by variations in the rate of pacing signals of an "internal clock", or by lag-adaptation mechanisms that recalibrate the perceived time of one event relative to another. This study compares these accounts directly for one temporal illusion: the subjective compression of the interval between voluntary actions and their effects, known as 'intentional binding'. Participants discriminated whether two cutaneous stimuli presented after voluntary or passive movements were simultaneous or successive. In other trials, they judged the temporal interval between their movement and an ensuing tone. Temporal discrimination was impaired following voluntary movements compared to passive movements early in the action-tone interval. In a control experiment, active movements without subsequent tones produced no impairment in temporal discrimination. These results suggest that voluntary actions transiently slow down an internal clock during the action-effect interval. This in turn leads to intentional binding, and links the effects of voluntary actions to the self.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Judgment / physiology
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult