Interoceptive focus shapes the experience of time

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 29;9(1):e86934. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086934. eCollection 2014.


The perception of time is a fundamental part of human experience. Recent research suggests that the experience of time emerges from emotional and interoceptive (bodily) states as processed in the insular cortex. Whether there is an interaction between the conscious awareness of interoceptive states and time distortions induced by emotions has rarely been investigated so far. We aimed to address this question by the use of a retrospective time estimation task comparing two groups of participants. One group had a focus on interoceptive states and one had a focus on exteroceptive information while watching film clips depicting fear, amusement and neutral content. Main results were that attention to interoceptive processes significantly affected subjective time experience. Fear was accompanied with subjective time dilation that was more pronounced in the group with interoceptive focus, while amusement led to a quicker passage of time which was also increased by interoceptive focus. We conclude that retrospective temporal distortions are directly influenced by attention to bodily responses. These effects might crucially interact with arousal levels. Sympathetic nervous system activation affecting memory build-up might be the decisive factor influencing retrospective time judgments. Our data substantially extend former research findings underscoring the relevance of interoception for the effects of emotional states on subjective time experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Physiological
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology*

Grant support

This study was funded by the German Research Council (DFG) and a grant to Olga Pollatos (PO 1011/2-1) participating in the Research Group Computational Modeling of Behavioral, Cognitive, and Neural Dynamics (FOR 868). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.