Properties of the internal clock: first- and second-order principles of subjective time

Annu Rev Psychol. 2014;65:743-71. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115117. Epub 2013 Sep 11.


Humans share with other animals an ability to measure the passage of physical time and subjectively experience a sense of time passing. Subjective time has hallmark qualities, akin to other senses, which can be accounted for by formal, psychological, and neurobiological models of the internal clock. These include first-order principles, such as changes in clock speed and how temporal memories are stored, and second-order principles, including timescale invariance, multisensory integration, rhythmical structure, and attentional time-sharing. Within these principles there are both typical individual differences--influences of emotionality, thought speed, and psychoactive drugs--and atypical differences in individuals affected with certain clinical disorders (e.g., autism, Parkinson's disease, and schizophrenia). This review summarizes recent behavioral and neurobiological findings and provides a theoretical framework for considering how changes in the properties of the internal clock impact time perception and other psychological domains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Time
  • Time Perception*