Embodying Time in the Brain: A Multi-Dimensional Neuroimaging Meta-Analysis of 95 Duration Processing Studies


  • Naghibi Narges
  • Jahangiri Nadia
  • Khosrowabadi Reza
  • Eickhoff Claudia
  • Eickhoff Simon
  • Coull Jennifer
  • Tahmasian Masoud


  • Time perception
  • Timing
  • Embodiment
  • Activation likelihood estimation
  • Coordinate-based meta-analysis
  • Duration Processing

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Abstract Time is an omnipresent aspect of almost everything we experience internally or in the external world. The experience of time occurs through such an extensive set of contextual factors that, after decades of research, a unified understanding of its neural substrates is still elusive. In this study, following the recent best-practice guidelines, we conducted a coordinate-based meta-analysis of 95 carefully-selected neuroimaging papers of duration processing. We categorized the included papers into 14 classes of temporal features according to six categorical dimensions. Then, using the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) technique we investigated the convergent activation patterns of each class with a cluster-level family-wise error correction at p < 0.05. The regions most consistently activated across the various timing contexts were the pre-SMA and bilateral insula, consistent with an embodied theory of timing in which abstract representations of duration are rooted in sensorimotor and interoceptive experience, respectively. Moreover, class-specific patterns of activation could be roughly divided according to whether participants were timing auditory sequential stimuli, which additionally activated the dorsal striatum and SMA-proper, or visual single interval stimuli, which additionally activated the right middle frontal and inferior parietal cortices. We conclude that temporal cognition is so entangled with our everyday experience that timing stereotypically common combinations of stimulus characteristics reactivates the sensorimotor systems with which they were first experienced.

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