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J Neurophysiol. 2008 Feb;99(2):939-49. Epub 2007 Dec 19.

Do we have a common mechanism for measuring time in the hundreds of millisecond range? Evidence from multiple-interval timing tasks.

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Departamento de Neurobiología Conductual y Cognitiva, Instituto de Neurobiología, Campus UNAM-UAQ, Juriquilla, Querétaro, Qro 76230, Mexico.


In the present study we examined the performance variability of a group of 13 subjects in eight different tasks that involved the processing of temporal intervals in the subsecond range. These tasks differed in their sensorimotor processing (S; perception vs. production), the modality of the stimuli used to define the intervals (M; auditory vs. visual), and the number of intervals (N; one or four). Different analytical techniques were used to determine the existence of a central or distributed timing mechanism across tasks. The results showed a linear increase in performance variability as a function of the interval duration in all tasks. However, this compliance of the scalar property of interval timing was accompanied by a strong effect of S, N, and M and the interaction between these variables on the subjects' temporal accuracy. Thus the performance variability was larger not only in perceptual tasks than that in motor-timing tasks, but also using visual rather than auditory stimuli, and decreased as a function of the number of intervals. These results suggest the existence of a partially overlapping distributed mechanism underlying the ability to quantify time in different contexts.

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