The image of time: a voxel-wise meta-analysis

Neuroimage. 2010 Jan 15;49(2):1728-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2009.09.064. Epub 2009 Oct 2.


Although there has been an explosion of interest in the neural correlates of time perception during the past decade, substantial disagreement persists regarding the structures that are relevant to interval timing. We addressed this important issue by conducting a comprehensive, voxel-wise meta-analysis using the activation likelihood estimation algorithm; this procedure models each stereotactic coordinate as a 3D Gaussian distribution, then tests the likelihood of activation across all voxels in the brain (Turkeltaub et al., 2002). We included 446 sets of activation foci across 41 studies of timing that report whole-brain analyses. We divided the data set along two dimensions: stimulus duration (sub- vs. supra-second) and nature of response (motor vs. perceptual). Our meta-analyses revealed dissociable neural networks for the processing of duration with motor or perceptual components. Sub-second timing tasks showed a higher propensity to recruit sub-cortical networks, such as the basal ganglia and cerebellum, whereas supra-second timing tasks were more likely to activate cortical structures, such as the SMA and prefrontal cortex. We also detected a differential pattern of activation likelihood in basal ganglia structures, depending on the interval and task design. Finally, a conjunction analysis revealed the SMA and right inferior frontal gyrus as the only structures with significant voxels across all timing conditions. These results suggest that the processing of temporal information is mediated by a distributed network that can be differentially engaged depending on the task requirements.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Normal Distribution
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*