Lost in time: Relocating the perception of duration outside the brain

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2023 Oct:153:105312. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2023.105312. Epub 2023 Jul 17.


It is well-accepted in neuroscience that animals process time internally to estimate the duration of intervals lasting between one and several seconds. More than 100 years ago, Henri Bergson nevertheless remarked that, because animals have memory, their inner experience of time is ever-changing, making duration impossible to measure internally and time a source of change. Bergson proposed that quantifying the inner experience of time requires its externalization in movements (observed or self-generated), as their unfolding leaves measurable traces in space. Here, studies across species are reviewed and collectively suggest that, in line with Bergson's ideas, animals spontaneously solve time estimation tasks through a movement-based spatialization of time. Moreover, the well-known scalable anticipatory responses of animals to regularly spaced rewards can be explained by the variable pressure of time on reward-oriented actions. Finally, the brain regions linked with time perception overlap with those implicated in motor control, spatial navigation and motivation. Thus, instead of considering time as static information processed by the brain, it might be fruitful to conceptualize it as a kind of force to which animals are more or less sensitive depending on their internal state and environment.

Keywords: Basal ganglia; Duration; Hippocampus; Internal clocks; Interval timing; Population clocks; Space; Time.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology
  • Motivation
  • Movement
  • Neurosciences*
  • Time Perception*