More consistent, yet less sensitive: interval timing in autism spectrum disorders

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2012;65(11):2093-107. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2012.690770. Epub 2012 Jul 16.


Even though phenomenological observations and anecdotal reports suggest atypical time processing in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), very few psychophysical studies have investigated interval timing, and the obtained results are contradictory. The present study aimed to clarify which timing processes function atypically in ASD and whether they are related to the ASD diagnostic profile. Visual, auditory, and cross-modal interval timing was assessed in 18 individuals with ASD using a repeated standards version of the temporal generalization task. The use of two different standard durations (600 and 1,000 ms) allowed for an assessment of the scalar property of interval timing in ASD, a fundamental characteristic of interval timing. The ASD group showed clearer adherence to the scalar property of interval timing than the control group. In addition, both groups showed the normal effect that auditory stimuli had longer subjective durations than visual ones. Yet, signal detection analysis showed that the sensitivity of temporal discrimination was reduced in the ASD group across modalities, in particular for auditory standards. Moreover, response criteria in the ASD group were related to symptom strength in the communication domain. The findings suggest that temporal intervals are fundamentally processed in the same way in ASD and TD, but with reduced sensitivity for temporal interval differences in ASD. Individuals with ASD may show a more conservative response strategy due to generally decreased sensitivity for the perception of time intervals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / complications*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Perceptual Disorders / diagnosis
  • Perceptual Disorders / etiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Signal Detection, Psychological / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult