Subsecond timing in primates: comparison of interval production between human subjects and rhesus monkeys

J Neurophysiol. 2009 Dec;102(6):3191-202. doi: 10.1152/jn.00066.2009. Epub 2009 Oct 7.


This study describes the psychometric similarities and differences in motor timing performance between 20 human subjects and three rhesus monkeys during two timing production tasks. These tasks involved tapping on a push-button to produce the same set of intervals (range of 450 to 1,000 ms), but they differed in the number of intervals produced (single vs. multiple) and the modality of the stimuli (auditory vs. visual) used to define the time intervals. The data showed that for both primate species, variability increased as a function of the length of the produced target interval across tasks, a result in accordance with the scalar property. Interestingly, the temporal performance of rhesus monkeys was equivalent to that of human subjects during both the production of single intervals and the tapping synchronization to a metronome. Overall, however, human subjects were more accurate than monkeys and showed less timing variability. This was especially true during the self-pacing phase of the multiple interval production task, a behavior that may be related to complex temporal cognition, such as speech and music execution. In addition, the well-known human bias toward auditory as opposed to visual cues for the accurate execution of time intervals was not evident in rhesus monkeys. These findings validate the rhesus monkey as an appropriate model for the study of the neural basis of time production, but also suggest that the exquisite temporal abilities of humans, which peak in speech and music performance, are not all shared with macaques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Primates / physiology*
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Regression Analysis
  • Signal Detection, Psychological*
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology
  • Young Adult