The internal clock: electroencephalographic evidence for oscillatory processes underlying time perception

Q J Exp Psychol A. 1994 May;47(2):241-89. doi: 10.1080/14640749408401112.


It has been proposed that temporal perception and performance depend on a biological source of temporal information. A model for a temporal oscillator put forward by Treisman, Faulkner, Naish, and Brogan (1990) predicted that if intense sensory pulses (such as auditory clicks) were presented to subjects at suitable rates they would perturb the frequency at which the resulting pattern of interference between sensory pulse rates and time judgments would depend on the frequency of the temporal oscillator and so might allow the frequency to be estimated. Such interference patterns were found using auditory clicks and visual flicker (Treisman & Brogan, 1992; Treisman et al., 1990). The present study examines time estimation together with the simultaneously recorded electroencephalogram to examine whether evidence of such an interference pattern can be found in the EEG. Alternative models for the organization of a temporal system consisting of an oscillator or multiple oscillators are considered and predictions derived from them relating to the EEG. An experiment was run in which time intervals were presented for estimation, auditory clicks being given during those intervals, and the EEG was recorded concurrently. Analyses of the EEG revealed interactions between auditory click rates and certain EEG components which parallel the interference patterns previously found. The overall pattern of EEG results is interpreted as favouring a model for the organization of the temporal system in which sets of click-sensitive oscillators spaced at intervals of about 12.8 Hz contribute to the EEG spectrum. These are taken to represent a series of harmonically spaced distributions of oscillators involved in time-keeping.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Time Perception / physiology*