Give it time: neural evidence for distorted time perception and enhanced memory encoding in emotional situations

Neuroimage. 2012 Oct 15;63(1):591-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.06.041. Epub 2012 Jun 29.


Time perception is compromised in emotional situations, yet our ability to remember these events is enhanced. Here we suggest how the two phenomena might be functionally linked and describe the neural networks that underlie this association. We found that participants perceived an emotionally aversive stimulus longer than it was, compared to an immediately following neutral stimulus. These time estimation errors were in the same trials associated with better recognition memory for the emotionally aversive stimuli and poorer memory for the neutral stimuli. Functional imaging revealed that the superior frontal gyrus was activated during time perception with aversive stimuli, and the amygdala, putamen and insula showed activations that are specific to time estimation errors in this aversive context. We further found that activity in the insula and putamen was correlated with memory performance but only during over-estimation of time with the aversive stimuli. We suggest that processing is accelerated during the experience of emotionally aversive events, presumably in the service of memory-related operations, resulting in better encoding but at the expense of time perception accuracy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*