A sensory integration account for time perception

PLoS Comput Biol. 2021 Jan 29;17(1):e1008668. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1008668. eCollection 2021 Jan.


The connection between stimulus perception and time perception remains unknown. The present study combines human and rat psychophysics with sensory cortical neuronal firing to construct a computational model for the percept of elapsed time embedded within sense of touch. When subjects judged the duration of a vibration applied to the fingertip (human) or whiskers (rat), increasing stimulus intensity led to increasing perceived duration. Symmetrically, increasing vibration duration led to increasing perceived intensity. We modeled real spike trains recorded from vibrissal somatosensory cortex as input to dual leaky integrators-an intensity integrator with short time constant and a duration integrator with long time constant-generating neurometric functions that replicated the actual psychophysical functions of rats. Returning to human psychophysics, we then confirmed specific predictions of the dual leaky integrator model. This study offers a framework, based on sensory coding and subsequent accumulation of sensory drive, to account for how a feeling of the passage of time accompanies the tactile sensory experience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Psychophysics / methods*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Somatosensory Cortex / physiology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Vibration
  • Vibrissae / physiology
  • Young Adult

Grants and funding

Financial support was provided by the European Research Council advanced grant CONCEPT (https://erc.europa.eu; project 294498), the Human Frontier Science Program (www.hfsp.org; project RGP0015/2013), European Union FET grant BIOTACT (project 215910), CORONET (project 269459), and the Italian MIUR grant HANDBOT (https://www.miur.gov.it/web/guest/ricerca1; project GA 280778). The funders played no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.