FUNCTIONAL MODELLING OF THE HUMAN TIMING MECHANISM
Behaviour occurs in time, and precise timing in the range of seconds and fractions of seconds is for most living organisms necessary for successful interaction with the environment. Our ability to time discrete actions and to predict events on the basis of prior events indicates the existence of an internal timing mechanism. The nature of this mechanism provides essential constraints on models of the functional organisation of the brain.
The present work indicates that there are discontinuities in the function of time close to 1 s and 1.4 s, both in the amount of drift in a series of produced intervals (Study I) and in the detectability of drift in a series of sounds (Study II). The similarities across different tasks further suggest that action and perceptual judgements are governed by the same (kind of) mechanism. Study III showed that series of produced intervals could be characterised by different amounts of positive fractal dependency related to the aforementioned discontinuities.
In conjunction with other findings in the literature, these results suggest that timing of intervals up to a few seconds is strongly dependent on previous intervals and on the duration to be timed. This argues against a clock-counter mechanism, as proposed by scalar timing theory, according to which successive intervals are random and the size of the timing error conforms to Weber’s law.
A functional model is proposed, expressed in an autoregressive framework, which consists of a single-interval timer with error corrective feedback. The duration-specificity of the proposed model is derived from the order of error correction, as determined by a semi-flexible temporal integration span.