Neuronal correlates of visual time perception at brief timescales.

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Successful interaction with the world depends on accurate perception of the timing of external events. Neurons at early stages of the primate visual system represent time-varying stimuli with high precision. However, it is unknown whether this temporal fidelity is maintained in the prefrontal cortex, where changes in neuronal activity generally correlate with changes in perception. One reason to suspect that it is not maintained is that humans experience surprisingly large fluctuations in the perception of time. To investigate the neuronal correlates of time perception, we recorded from neurons in the prefrontal cortex and midbrain of monkeys performing a temporal-discrimination task. Visual time intervals were presented at a timescale relevant to natural behavior (<500 ms). At this brief timescale, neuronal adaptation--time-dependent changes in the size of successive responses--occurs. We found that visual activity fluctuated with timing judgments in the prefrontal cortex but not in comparable midbrain areas. Surprisingly, only response strength, not timing, predicted task performance. Intervals perceived as longer were associated with larger visual responses and shorter intervals with smaller responses, matching the dynamics of adaptation. These results suggest that the magnitude of prefrontal activity may be read out to provide temporal information that contributes to judging the passage of time.





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Mayo, J Patrick, and Marc A Sommer (2013). Neuronal correlates of visual time perception at brief timescales. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110(4). pp. 1506–1511. 10.1073/pnas.1217177110 Retrieved from

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Marc A. Sommer

Professor of Biomedical Engineering

We study circuits for cognition. Using a combination of neurophysiology and biomedical engineering, we focus on the interaction between brain areas during visual perception, decision-making, and motor planning. Specific projects include the role of frontal cortex in metacognition, the role of cerebellar-frontal circuits in action timing, the neural basis of "good enough" decision-making (satisficing), and the neural mechanisms of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

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