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Neuropsychologia. 2014 May;58:14-22. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.03.016. Epub 2014 Apr 5.

Meta-analysis of functional neuroimaging studies indicates that an increase of cognitive difficulty during executive tasks engages brain regions associated with time perception.

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Department of Psychosis Studies, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London, United Kingdom; FIDMAG Germanes Hospitalàries, Centro de Investigación Biomédica en Red de Salud Mental, Madrid, CIBERSAM, Spain.
Department of Methods and Experimental Psychology, University of Deusto, Vizcaya, Spain.
Department of Psychiatry, Clínica Universidad de Navarra, University of Navarre, Navarre, Spain.
Department of Preventive Medicine, Clínica Universidad de Navarra, University of Navarre, Navarre, Spain.
Department of Psychiatry, Clínica Universidad de Navarra, University of Navarre, Navarre, Spain. Electronic address:



We hypothesize that time perception and executive functions are interrelated and share neuroanatomical basis, and that fluctuations in levels of cognitive effort play a role in mediating that relation. The main goal of this study was to identify brain structures activated both by increases in cognitive activity and during time perception tasks.


We performed a multimodal meta-analysis to identify common brain regions in the findings of (a) an SDM meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies assessing the brain response to increasing levels of cognitive difficulty, and (b) an ALE meta-analysis on neuroimaging of time perception (Ortuño, Guillén-Grima, López-García, Gómez, & Pla, 2011. Schizophr. Res., 125(2-3), 129-35).


Consistent with results of previous, separate meta-analyses, the current study supports the hypothesis that there exists a group of brain regions engaged both in time perception tasks and during tasks requiring cognitive effort. Thus, brain regions associated with working memory and executive functions were found to be engaged during time estimation tasks, and regions associated with time perception were found to be engaged by an increase in the difficulty of non-temporal tasks. The implication is that temporal perception and cognitive processes demanding cognitive control become interlinked when there is an increase in the level of cognitive effort demanded.


ALE-meta-analysis; Cognition; Cognitive demand; Cognitive load; Executive functions; Neuroimaging studies; Time perception; Timing; Working memory

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