It is often argued that climbing neural activity, as for example reflected by the contingent negative variation (CNV) in the electroencephalogram, is the signature of the subjective experience of time. According to this view, the resolution of the CNV coincides with termination of subjective timing processes. Paradoxically, behavioral data indicate that participants keep track of timing even after the standard interval (SI) has passed. This study addresses whether timing continues after CNV resolution. In Experiment 1, human participants were asked to discriminate time intervals while evoked potentials (EPs) elicited by the sound terminating a comparison interval (CI) were measured. As the amplitude of N1P2 components increases as a function of the temporal distance from the SI, and the latency of the P2 component followed the hazard rate of the CIs, timing processes continue after CNV resolution. Based on a novel experimental paradigm, statistical model comparisons and trial-by-trial analyses, Experiment 2 supports this finding as subjective time is more accurately indexed by the amplitude of early EPs than by CNV amplitude. These results provide the first direct evidence that subjective timing of multisecond intervals does not depend on climbing neural activity as indexed by the CNV and that the subjective experience of time is better reflected by distinct features of post-CI evoked potentials.
Keywords: climbing neural activity; contingent negative variation; interval timing; temporal accumulation.