The Amount of Time Dilation for Visual Flickers Corresponds to the Amount of Neural Entrainments Measured by EEG

Front Comput Neurosci. 2018 May 7;12:30. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2018.00030. eCollection 2018.


The neural basis of time perception has long attracted the interests of researchers. Recently, a conceptual model consisting of neural oscillators was proposed and validated by behavioral experiments that measured the dilated duration in perception of a flickering stimulus (Hashimoto and Yotsumoto, 2015). The model proposed that flickering stimuli cause neural entrainment of oscillators, resulting in dilated time perception. In this study, we examined the oscillator-based model of time perception, by collecting electroencephalography (EEG) data during an interval-timing task. Initially, subjects observed a stimulus, either flickering at 10-Hz or constantly illuminated. The subjects then reproduced the duration of the stimulus by pressing a button. As reported in previous studies, the subjects reproduced 1.22 times longer durations for flickering stimuli than for continuously illuminated stimuli. The event-related potential (ERP) during the observation of a flicker oscillated at 10 Hz, reflecting the 10-Hz neural activity phase-locked to the flicker. Importantly, the longer reproduced duration was associated with a larger amplitude of the 10-Hz ERP component during the inter-stimulus interval, as well as during the presentation of the flicker. The correlation between the reproduced duration and the 10-Hz oscillation during the inter-stimulus interval suggested that the flicker-induced neural entrainment affected time dilation. While the 10-Hz flickering stimuli induced phase-locked entrainments at 10 Hz, we also observed event-related desynchronizations of spontaneous neural oscillations in the alpha-frequency range. These could be attributed to the activation of excitatory neurons while observing the flicker stimuli. In addition, neural activity at approximately the alpha frequency increased during the reproduction phase, indicating that flicker-induced neural entrainment persisted even after the offset of the flicker. In summary, our results suggest that the duration perception is mediated by neural oscillations, and that time dilation induced by flickering visual stimuli can be attributed to neural entrainment.

Keywords: EEG; duration perception; neural entrainment; time; time perception.