Time discrimination in traumatic brain injury patients

J Clin Exp Neuropsychol. 2013;35(1):90-102. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2012.755151. Epub 2012 Dec 24.


Time management skills are required for most daily activities. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients often present with cognitive dysfunction, but few studies have investigated temporal impairment. The aim of the present study was to assess temporal abilities in TBI patients using a time discrimination task. Twenty-seven TBI patients (ages = 18-60 years) and 27 controls (ages = 20-60 years) were asked to discriminate between two time intervals presented sequentially. The standard intervals were 500 ms or 1,300 ms long followed by a comparison stimulus that was 25% shorter or longer than the standard one. Participants were also asked to perform two tasks to assess attention, speed-of-processing (the Stroop task), and working memory (the n-back task) abilities. The TBI patients were less accurate than the controls on the time discrimination task and showed greater time-order error effects. In fact, TBI patients pressed the "short" key more times when the standard time interval was 500 ms and the "long" key more times when the standard interval was 1,300 ms. Significant correlations were found between time discrimination, working memory, and speed of processing in both TBI and controls when the standard time interval was 1,300 ms. Attention appeared to be involved in different ways in the two groups. Working memory and speed of processing were involved in time processing only in TBI patients when the standard time interval was 500 ms. These data lend additional support to the notion that two different systems are responsible for elaborating time durations shorter or longer than a second.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult