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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Jul 12;364(1525):1853-63. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0024.

Evaluating dedicated and intrinsic models of temporal encoding by varying context.

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Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.


Two general classes of models have been proposed to account for how people process temporal information in the milliseconds range. Dedicated models entail a mechanism in which time is explicitly encoded; examples include clock-counter models and functional delay lines. Intrinsic models, such as state-dependent networks (SDN), represent time as an emergent property of the dynamics of neural processing. An important property of SDN is that the encoding of duration is context dependent since the representation of an interval will vary as a function of the initial state of the network. Consistent with this assumption, duration discrimination thresholds for auditory intervals spanning 100 ms are elevated when an irrelevant tone is presented at varying times prior to the onset of the test interval. We revisit this effect in two experiments, considering attentional issues that may also produce such context effects. The disruptive effect of a variable context was eliminated or attenuated when the intervals between the irrelevant tone and test interval were made dissimilar or the duration of the test interval was increased to 300 ms. These results indicate how attentional processes can influence the perception of brief intervals, as well as point to important constraints for SDN models.

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