Brain activity related to time estimation processes in humans was analyzed using a perceptual phenomenon called auditory temporal assimilation. In a typical stimulus condition, two neighboring time intervals (T1 and T2 in this order) are perceived as equal even when the physical lengths of these time intervals are considerably different. Our previous event-related potential (ERP) study demonstrated that a slow negative component (SNCt) appears in the right-frontal brain area (around the F8 electrode) after T2, which is associated with judgment of the equality/inequality of T1 and T2. In the present study, we conducted two ERP experiments to further confirm the robustness of the SNCt. The stimulus patterns consisted of two neighboring time intervals marked by three successive tone bursts. Thirteen participants only listened to the patterns in the first session, and judged the equality/inequality of T1 and T2 in the next session. Behavioral data showed typical temporal assimilation. The ERP data revealed that three components (N1; contingent negative variation, CNV; and SNCt) emerged related to the temporal judgment. The N1 appeared in the central area, and its peak latencies corresponded to the physical timing of each marker onset. The CNV component appeared in the frontal area during T2 presentation, and its amplitude increased as a function of T1. The SNCt appeared in the right-frontal area after the presentation of T1 and T2, and its magnitude was larger for the temporal patterns causing perceptual inequality. The SNCt was also correlated with the perceptual equality/inequality of the same stimulus pattern, and continued up to about 400 ms after the end of T2. These results suggest that the SNCt can be a signature of equality/inequality judgment, which derives from the comparison of the two neighboring time intervals.
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