Physiological correlates of subjective time: evidence for the temporal accumulator hypothesis

Neuroimage. 2011 Aug 1;57(3):1251-63. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.014. Epub 2011 May 12.


Clock-counter models, the most influential cognitive models of temporal computation, have been successful in explaining a large set of behavioral data. However, it remains unclear whether the component operations postulated in these models correspond to any specific biological mechanism. Using stimuli in different sensory modalities and manipulating physical properties known to bias the 'subjective' perception of time (speed for vision and pitch for audition), the present study aimed to highlight brain areas where activity correlates with the 'subjective' perception of time: a time accumulator according to clock-counter models. Using functional MRI we found that during the encoding of a temporal interval in the millisecond range (600 and 1000 ms), the hemodynamic response of a few brain regions correlated with the interval reproduction performance. For the visual modality, the activity of the putamen, the mid-insula and the mid-temporal cortex reflected the subjective interval duration, which was biased according to the different speeds of the visual stimuli. This effect was found only when subjects encoded the stimulus duration and was specific for the visual modality, where a significant overestimation of time with increasing speed was observed. These results demonstrate a definite relation between 'subjective time' and brain activity, supporting the hypothesis of a physiological correlate of time 'accumulation'.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult