Body signals, cardiac awareness, and the perception of time

Biol Psychol. 2011 Mar;86(3):289-97. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2011.01.001. Epub 2011 Jan 22.


Recent research suggests that our sense of time intervals in the range of seconds is directly related to activity in the insular cortex, which contains the primary sensory area for interoception. We therefore investigated whether performance in a duration reproduction task might correlate with individual interoceptive awareness and with measurable changes in autonomic activity during the task. Thirty-one healthy volunteers participated in an interoceptive (heartbeat) perception task and in repeated temporal reproduction trials using intervals of 8, 14, and 20s duration while skin conductance levels and cardiac and respiratory periods were recorded. We observed progressive increases in cardiac periods and decreases in skin conductance level during the encoding and (less reliably) the reproduction of these intervals. Notably, individuals' duration reproduction accuracy correlated positively both with the slope of cardiac slowing during the encoding intervals and with individual heartbeat perception scores. These results support the view that autonomic function and interoceptive awareness underpin our perception of time intervals in the range of seconds.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Awareness*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Electroencephalography
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time
  • Respiration
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult