The long-term goal of this research is to understand the principles that govern crossmodal interactions in the temporal domain. The specific objective of this proposal is to identify and to characterize a supramodal timing mechanism for perception of rate. The central hypothesis is that there is a vigorous and adaptive central timing mechanism (responding to changes within the order of seconds to minutes) that is at least to some degree unified and amodal. The proposed studies will rely on a recently discovered crossmodal aftereffect in which repeated exposure to a pulsed adaptor stimulus leads to changes in the perception of the rate of pulsation of subsequent stimuli, such that a relatively fast adaptor lead to later stimuli being perceived as slower, while a relatively slow adaptor does the reverse. This happens even when the adaptor and test stimuli are presented with different modalities and are never presented together. In a series of psychophysical experiments, this effect will be tested with different configurations of unimodal, bimodal, and crossmodal visual stimuli. These experiments will measure the strength and direction of the aftereffect as it varies with different adaptor stimuli and with different spatial relationships and rate differences between adaptor and test. These experiments will provide for a strong test of the supramodal timing hypothesis. An additional set of psychophysical experiments will use continuous flash suppression to render participants are largely unaware of the visual stimuli and test whether adaptation still occurs. This will determine whether the effect requires conscious awareness (and thus may be largely cognitive) or is at least in part perceptual. A final set of experiments will use EEG to track the range of temporal frequencies and the perception threshold of the effect, via the study of the power spectrum and steady state frequency responses, and will provide an objective measure of the causal relationship between auditory and visual networks in creating the perceptual effect. The results of these experiments will place constraints on neuronal and computational models of temporal processing. Timing deficits have been linked to changes due to normal aging as well as to disorders including dyslexia, ADHD, Parkinson's disease, depression, and schizophrenia. A better model of how the brain encodes time has the potential to enhance understanding of these timing deficits and may have implications for potential clinical or psychological interventions.

Public Health Relevance

This research proposes to examine how visual and auditory cues can interact to change perception of rate. These studies will enhance our understanding of how different senses are related and of how the brain represents time. The potential impact of our research is broad, including disciplines such as psychology, neuroscience, computational modeling, clinical research, educational therapy, cinematography, and philosophy.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Wiggs, Cheri
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California Institute of Technology
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Hartcher-O'Brien, Jess; Brighouse, Carolyn; Levitan, Carmel A (2016) A single mechanism account of duration and rate processing via the pacemaker-accumulator and beat frequency models. Curr Opin Behav Sci 8:268-275
Levitan, Carmel A; Ban, Yih-Hsin A; Stiles, Noelle R B et al. (2015) Rate perception adapts across the senses: evidence for a unified timing mechanism. Sci Rep 5:8857