Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(11):e1002771. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002771. Epub 2012 Nov 29.

Internal representations of temporal statistics and feedback calibrate motor-sensory interval timing.

Author information

Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour, School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Humans have been shown to adapt to the temporal statistics of timing tasks so as to optimize the accuracy of their responses, in agreement with the predictions of Bayesian integration. This suggests that they build an internal representation of both the experimentally imposed distribution of time intervals (the prior) and of the error (the loss function). The responses of a Bayesian ideal observer depend crucially on these internal representations, which have only been previously studied for simple distributions. To study the nature of these representations we asked subjects to reproduce time intervals drawn from underlying temporal distributions of varying complexity, from uniform to highly skewed or bimodal while also varying the error mapping that determined the performance feedback. Interval reproduction times were affected by both the distribution and feedback, in good agreement with a performance-optimizing Bayesian observer and actor model. Bayesian model comparison highlighted that subjects were integrating the provided feedback and represented the experimental distribution with a smoothed approximation. A nonparametric reconstruction of the subjective priors from the data shows that they are generally in agreement with the true distributions up to third-order moments, but with systematically heavier tails. In particular, higher-order statistical features (kurtosis, multimodality) seem much harder to acquire. Our findings suggest that humans have only minor constraints on learning lower-order statistical properties of unimodal (including peaked and skewed) distributions of time intervals under the guidance of corrective feedback, and that their behavior is well explained by Bayesian decision theory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons


    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for Public Library of Science Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Support Center