Temporal context calibrates interval timing

Nat Neurosci. 2010 Aug;13(8):1020-6. doi: 10.1038/nn.2590. Epub 2010 Jun 27.


We use our sense of time to identify temporal relationships between events and to anticipate actions. The degree to which we can exploit temporal contingencies depends on the variability of our measurements of time. We asked humans to reproduce time intervals drawn from different underlying distributions. As expected, production times were more variable for longer intervals. However, production times exhibited a systematic regression toward the mean. Consequently, estimates for a sample interval differed depending on the distribution from which it was drawn. A performance-optimizing Bayesian model that takes the underlying distribution of samples into account provided an accurate description of subjects' performance, variability and bias. This finding suggests that the CNS incorporates knowledge about temporal uncertainty to adapt internal timing mechanisms to the temporal statistics of the environment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult