A group of scientists has corroborated how our brains perceive time hand-in-hand with our experiences in physical space.
In a study published in Nature, neuroscientists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology have located a network of cells that act like a clock, and record our experiences as a function of time.
Grid cells are located in a part of the brain called the cortex, or more specifically, the medial entorhinal cortex (MEC). Adjacent to the MEC is another region, called the lateral entorhinal cortex (LEC), where this network of neurons that integrates time from experience resides. The researchers observed these regions in the brain of a rat.
They tracked the electrical impulses in these regions as the rat, called Marco, explored his environment in search of bits of chocolate.
To see if a change in the content of an experience can alter our perception of time, a second experiment was carried out.
Marco was given new obstacles in his path, restricting the animal’s movements to a figure-8 shaped maze. This would force Marco to repeat his passing any part of the maze more number of times, but at different periods of time.
The researchers observed that the animal’s brain activity showed spikes resembling ‘timestamps’ for repeated tracks and overlapping movements that Marco made.
"We saw the time-coding signal change character from unique sequences in time, to a repetitive and partly overlapping pattern," Dr Albert Tsao, an author of the study said to University press.
"The time signal became more precise and predictable during the repetitive task."
The researchers could also use the signals they recorded from the LEC region of Marco’s brain to track precisely when a specific event had happened during the experiment.
The study offers evidence of how our brains can record spatial information from an experience over time.
The findings of the research indicate that our brain’s perception of time during an experience can change – in physical space – with changes in the activities and content of those experiences.