Interval timing and working memory are critical components of cognition that are supported by neural oscillations in prefrontal-striatal-hippocampal circuits. In this review, the properties of interval timing and working memory are explored in terms of behavioral, anatomical, pharmacological, and neurophysiological findings. We then describe the various neurobiological theories that have been developed to explain these cognitive processes - largely independent of each other. Following this, a coupled excitatory - inhibitory oscillation (EIO) model of temporal processing is proposed to address the shared oscillatory properties of interval timing and working memory. Using this integrative approach, we describe a hybrid model explaining how interval timing and working memory can originate from the same oscillatory processes, but differ in terms of which dimension of the neural oscillation is utilized for the extraction of item, temporal order, and duration information. This extension of the striatal beat-frequency (SBF) model of interval timing (Matell and Meck, 2000, 2004) is based on prefrontal-striatal-hippocampal circuit dynamics and has direct relevance to the pathophysiological distortions observed in time perception and working memory in a variety of psychiatric and neurological conditions.
Time perception is fundamental and heavily researched, but the field faces a number of obstacles to theoretical progress. In this advanced review, we focus on three pieces of 'bad news' for time perception research: temporal perception is highly labile across changes in experimental context and task; there are pronounced individual differences not just in overall performance but in the use of different timing strategies and the effect of key variables; and laboratory studies typically bear little relation to timing in the 'real world'. We describe recent examples of these issues and in each case offer some 'good news' by showing how new research is addressing these challenges to provide rich insights into the neural and information-processing bases of timing and time perception.
Variations in both pitch and time are important in conveying meaning through speech and music, however, research is scant on perceptual interactions between these two domains. Using an ordinal comparison procedure, we explored how different pitch levels of flanker tones influenced the perceived duration of empty interstimulus intervals (ISIs). Participants heard monotonic, isochronous tone sequences (ISIs of 300, 600, or 1200 ms) composed of either one or five standard ISIs flanked by 500 Hz tones, followed by a final interval (FI) flanked by tones of either the same (500 Hz), higher (625 Hz), or lower (400 Hz) pitch. The FI varied in duration around the standard ISI duration. Participants were asked to determine if the FI was longer or shorter in duration than the preceding intervals. We found that an increase in FI flanker tone pitch level led to the underestimation of FI durations while a decrease in FI flanker tone pitch led to the overestimation of FI durations. The magnitude of these pitch-level effects decreased as the duration of the standard interval was increased, suggesting that the effect was driven by differences in mode-switch latencies to start/stop timing. Temporal context (One vs. Five Standard ISIs) did not have a consistent effect on performance. We propose that the interaction between pitch and time may have important consequences in understanding the ways in which meaning and emotion are communicated.
An emerging corpus of clinical and neuroimaging data suggests that subsecond and suprasecond durations are represented via 2 distinct mechanisms in humans; however, surprisingly, behavioral data to this effect are lacking. In our first experiment, we perform the first systematic exploration of subsecond and suprasecond timing within the same session in nonhuman subjects. Rats were trained to judge the relative duration of 2 sequential stimuli, responding on one lever if the first stimulus was longer or on a second lever if the converse was true. Our data provide strong evidence of an abstract understanding of longer and shorter for durations in the suprasecond range, whereas responding was at chance levels for durations in the subsecond range. Data from a second experiment reveal that this pattern is not due to an inability to time subsecond signals, as rats respond systematically in subsecond and suprasecond bisection tasks. Together, our results provide the first clear behavioral evidence of a discontinuity in the mental time line. These data from rats are discussed in light of similar findings of a discontinuity in the mental number line in human infants.