Can we use verbal estimation to dissect the internal clock? Differentiating the effects of pacemaker rate, switch latencies, and judgment processes

Behav Processes. 2011 Jan;86(1):68-74. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.09.006. Epub 2010 Oct 8.


Behavioural timing is frequently assumed to be based on the accumulation of pulses from a pacemaker. In humans, verbal estimation is often used to determine whether the effect of factors which influence subjective time become more pronounced at longer durations - that is, if they affect the slope of the judgment function, consistent with a change in the rate of the pacemaker. Here, participants judged blank intervals marked by two squares which either did or did not differ in size. In Experiment 1, a small change in marker size produced shorter temporal judgments than a large change. This effect was independent of objective duration and indicates that the slope changes seen in previous work are not an inevitable artefact of the verbal estimation procedure. However, Experiments 2 and 3 included conditions where the markers did not change size and established (a) that the effect of marker size depends on the other stimuli presented during the experiment, and (b) that slope effects occur even when they cannot possibly be due to a change in the rate of the pacemaker. Taken together, these results urge some caution in the use of verbal estimation as a methodology for deconstructing the putative internal clock.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Biological Clocks / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Regression Analysis
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult