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Sci Rep. 2018 Jan 17;8(1):924. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-19218-z.

Rate after-effects fail to transfer cross-modally: Evidence for distributed sensory timing mechanisms.

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School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ, United Kingdom.
Bradford School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of Bradford, Bradford, BD7 1DP, United Kingdom.
Visual Neuroscience Group, School of Psychology, The University of Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, United Kingdom.
School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ, United Kingdom.


Accurate time perception is critical for a number of human behaviours, such as understanding speech and the appreciation of music. However, it remains unresolved whether sensory time perception is mediated by a central timing component regulating all senses, or by a set of distributed mechanisms, each dedicated to a single sensory modality and operating in a largely independent manner. To address this issue, we conducted a range of unimodal and cross-modal rate adaptation experiments, in order to establish the degree of specificity of classical after-effects of sensory adaptation. Adapting to a fast rate of sensory stimulation typically makes a moderate rate appear slower (repulsive after-effect), and vice versa. A central timing hypothesis predicts general transfer of adaptation effects across modalities, whilst distributed mechanisms predict a high degree of sensory selectivity. Rate perception was quantified by a method of temporal reproduction across all combinations of visual, auditory and tactile senses. Robust repulsive after-effects were observed in all unimodal rate conditions, but were not observed for any cross-modal pairings. Our results show that sensory timing abilities are adaptable but, crucially, that this change is modality-specific - an outcome that is consistent with a distributed sensory timing hypothesis.

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