How much time has passed? Ask your heart
Frontiers Media SA -- Frontiers in Neurorobotics
DOI 10.3389/fnbot.2014.00015
  1. time interval reproduction
  2. synchronization
  3. heart cycle
  4. interoception
  5. interoceptive sensitivity

Internal signals like one's heartbeats are centrally processed via specific pathways and both their neural representations as well as their conscious perception (interoception) provide key information for many cognitive processes. Recent empirical findings propose that neural processes in the insular cortex, which are related to bodily signals, might constitute a neurophysiological mechanism for the encoding of duration. Nevertheless, the exact nature of such a proposed relationship remains unclear. We aimed to address this question by searching for the effects of cardiac rhythm on time perception by the use of a duration reproduction paradigm. Time intervals used were of 0.5, 2, 3, 7, 10, 14, 25, and 40 s length. In a framework of synchronization hypothesis, measures of phase locking between the cardiac cycle and start/stop signals of the reproduction task were calculated to quantify this relationship. The main result is that marginally significant synchronization indices (SIs) between the heart cycle and the time reproduction responses for the time intervals of 2, 3, 10, 14, and 25 s length were obtained, while results were not significant for durations of 0.5, 7, and 40 s length. On the single participant level, several subjects exhibited some synchrony between the heart cycle and the time reproduction responses, most pronounced for the time interval of 25 s (8 out of 23 participants for 20% quantile). Better time reproduction accuracy was not related with larger degree of phase locking, but with greater vagal control of the heart. A higher interoceptive sensitivity (IS) was associated with a higher synchronization index (SI) for the 2 s time interval only. We conclude that information obtained from the cardiac cycle is relevant for the encoding and reproduction of time in the time span of 2–25 s. Sympathovagal tone as well as interoceptive processes mediate the accuracy of time estimation.