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Neuroscientist. 2002 Feb;8(1):42-51.

How do we tell time?

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Department of Neurobiology, Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles 90095, USA.


Animals time events on scales that range more than 10 orders of magnitude-from microseconds to days. This review focuses on timing that occurs in the range of tens to hundreds of milliseconds. It is within this range that virtually all the temporal cues for speech discrimination, and haptic and visual processing, occur. Additionally, on the motor side, it is on this scale that timing of fine motor movements takes place. To date, psychophysical data indicate that for many tasks there is a centralized timing mechanism, but that there are separate networks for different intervals. These data are supported by experiments that show that training to discriminate between two intervals generalizes to different modalities, but not different intervals. The mechanistic underpinnings of timing are not known. However various models have been proposed, they can be divided into labeled-line models and population clocks. In labeled-line models, different intervals are coded by activity in independent and discrete populations of neurons. In population models, time is coded by the population activity of a large group of neurons, and timing requires dynamic interaction between neurons. Population models are generally better suited for parallel processing of interval, duration, order, and sequence cues and are thus more likely to underlie timing in the range of tens to hundreds of milliseconds.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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