Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

How does the brain code time?

Project description

The time is ripe for a new model of perception and cognition

Time is of the essence, as the saying goes, and so is time perception as an extension of that. Time perception is a distinct area of study that attempts to characterise what exactly it means to say we perceive time, or perhaps more precisely the passage of time, and the way that objects or events change in time. Although numerous studies have addressed this enigmatic topic, our understanding remains relatively limited. The EU-funded TIMECODE project is taking a holistic approach based on the hypothesis that time perception integrates a local level of processing and modulation with a brain-wide one related to rhythmic oscillations. Combining behavioural and physiological studies of human and non-human primates together with computational tools, the team plans to shed light on the underlying neural substrates and the resulting cognitive perception of time and timing in the brain.


Time underlies each and every activity and perception. And yet our knowledge about time perception remains limited. It is hindered by a division between psychological and behavioral findings on the one hand, and neuroscience findings on the other hand. The former rarely address biological constraints, while the latter rarely informs a unified theory for timing. Theories on time perception have centred on the modular nature of time perception. Is time sensed through the operation of central mechanisms serving all sensory and motor systems? Or is time sensed locally, within different sensory and motor systems? TIMECODE entertains a third possibility for time perception in the brain and overcomes the gap between psychological theories and physiological manifestations of time by assuming a hierarchy of time that entails both a local level of analysis and a domain-general level of analysis. I identify three dimensions that need to be investigated in order to substantiate this possibility. First, local representations of time need to be identified within sensory (and motor) systems. Second, network dynamics that support the propagation of such representations need to be investigated. Brain rhythms play an important role in both local and inter-areal computations. Thus, the role of brain rhythms will be assessed for both levels of analysis. Finally, a brain-wide assessment of selectivity to time needs to be explored. TIMECODE investigates the initial local code for time, global code for time, and the inter-areal dynamics between them by combining human physiology (invasive and non-invasive) with illusions of time perception (in behavior). It investigates brain-wide selectivity to time by applying computational tools to intracranial data from human and non-human primates. Combining behavioral, systems neuroscience, and computational tools is imperative in order to offer a far-reaching theory of timing in the brain and allow a leap forward in understanding cognition.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 499 875,00
91904 Jerusalem

See on map

Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 499 875,00

Beneficiaries (1)