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Automatic time perception in the human brain for intervals ranging from milliseconds to seconds

Authors

  • Risto Näätänen,

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
    2. Helsinki Brain Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
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  • Olga Syssoeva,

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
    2. Helsinki Brain Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
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  • Rika Takegata

    1. Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki, Finland
    2. Helsinki Brain Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
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  • This study was supported by the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Government Center for International Mobility (CIMO).

Address reprint requests to: Risto Näätänen, Cognitive Brain Research Unit, Department of Psychology, P.O. Box 9, FIN-00014, University of Helsinki, Finland. E-mail: risto.naatanen@helsinki.fi

Abstract

Time perception in everyday life deals with various intervals. Here we investigated whether an automatic duration-discrimination mechanism in audition operates even for intervals of an order of seconds, by using the mismatch negativity (MMN), an index of automatic change detection in audition. In Experiment 1, occasional decrements of the duration of a repetitive “standard” tone elicited an MMN in subjects ignoring auditory stimulation, even with the standard-stimulus durations over a second. Nevertheless, the MMN amplitude was significantly diminished with standard-stimulus durations of 800 ms and above, despite the fact that a constant deviant versus standard duration ratio was used. Complementary experiments varying the interstimulus interval (Experiment 2) and the magnitude of duration change (Experiment 3) yielded corroborating results. The present results suggest that automatic duration discrimination in audition operates even for durations of the order of seconds; yet its optimum time scale might be of the order of milliseconds.

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