Performance-informed EEG analysis reveals mixed evidence for EEG signatures unique to the processing of time

Psychol Res. 2020 Mar;84(2):352-369. doi: 10.1007/s00426-018-1039-y. Epub 2018 Jun 20.


Certain EEG components (e.g., the contingent negative variation, CNV, or beta oscillations) have been linked to the perception of temporal magnitudes specifically. However, it is as of yet unclear whether these EEG components are really unique to time perception or reflect the perception of magnitudes in general. In the current study we recorded EEG while participants had to make judgments about duration (time condition) or numerosity (number condition) in a comparison task. This design allowed us to directly compare EEG signals between the processing of time and number. Stimuli consisted of a series of blue dots appearing and disappearing dynamically on a black screen. Each stimulus was characterized by its duration and the total number of dots that it consisted of. Because it is known that tasks like these elicit perceptual interference effects that we used a maximum-likelihood estimation (MLE) procedure to determine, for each participant and dimension separately, to what extent time and numerosity information were taken into account when making a judgement in an extensive post hoc analysis. This approach enabled us to capture individual differences in behavioral performance and, based on the MLE estimates, to select a subset of participants who suppressed task-irrelevant information. Even for this subset of participants, who showed no or only small interference effects and thus were thought to truly process temporal information in the time condition and numerosity information in the number condition, we found CNV patterns in the time-domain EEG signals for both tasks that was more pronounced in the time-task. We found no substantial evidence for differences between the processing of temporal and numerical information in the time-frequency domain.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult