Rate after-effects fail to transfer cross-modally: Evidence for distributed sensory timing mechanisms

Sci Rep. 2018 Jan 17;8(1):924. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-19218-z.


Accurate time perception is critical for a number of human behaviours, such as understanding speech and the appreciation of music. However, it remains unresolved whether sensory time perception is mediated by a central timing component regulating all senses, or by a set of distributed mechanisms, each dedicated to a single sensory modality and operating in a largely independent manner. To address this issue, we conducted a range of unimodal and cross-modal rate adaptation experiments, in order to establish the degree of specificity of classical after-effects of sensory adaptation. Adapting to a fast rate of sensory stimulation typically makes a moderate rate appear slower (repulsive after-effect), and vice versa. A central timing hypothesis predicts general transfer of adaptation effects across modalities, whilst distributed mechanisms predict a high degree of sensory selectivity. Rate perception was quantified by a method of temporal reproduction across all combinations of visual, auditory and tactile senses. Robust repulsive after-effects were observed in all unimodal rate conditions, but were not observed for any cross-modal pairings. Our results show that sensory timing abilities are adaptable but, crucially, that this change is modality-specific - an outcome that is consistent with a distributed sensory timing hypothesis.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Music
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychophysics / methods
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / physiology*
  • Touch / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*