Numerical magnitude modulates temporal comparison: An ERP study

Bin Xuan, Xiang Chuan Chen, Sheng He, Da Ren Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Time is believed to be a part of the generalized magnitude system just like space and quantity. Previous research suggests that time perception can be affected by magnitude in some non-temporal dimensions. Here we address two questions. First, could the influence be caused by an abstract magnitude component without perceptual variables? Second, what are the underlying mechanisms of the influence? Participants compared a pair of durations defined by two Arabic digits in a hundreds of milliseconds range. They performed more accurately when the shorter durations were defined by lower numeric value digits (small digits) and the longer durations were defined by higher value digits (large digits) than they did in the reversed condition. Event-Related Potential (ERP) results showed that the CNVs corresponding to the first duration (CNV1), to the second duration (CNV2) and the N1 were all enhanced when durations marked by small digits than that marked by large ones. Combining the electrophysiological data with the behavioral results, we suggest that digits can modulate performance of temporal comparison at the relatively early stage of perceptual processing. One possible explanation of the current results is that selective temporal attention and subsequent expectation may be involved in this modulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-142
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - May 7 2009


  • Contingent negative variation
  • Event-Related Potential
  • N1
  • Numeric magnitude
  • Selective temporal attention
  • Temporal comparison

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