Time Perception through the Processing of Verb Tenses: An ERP Study regarding Mental Time Travel
Author(s): Charalabos Papageorgiou, Anastasios E Giannopoulos, Athanasios S Fokas, Paul M Thompson, Nikolaos C Kapsalis, Panos Papageorgiou, Xanthi Stachtea, Christos N Capsalis
Background: Humans are equipped with the so-called Mental Time Travel (MTT) ability, which allows them to consciously construct and elaborate past or future scenes. The mechanisms underlying MTT remain elusive. This study focused on the late positive potential (LPP) and alpha oscillations, considering that LPP covaries with the temporal continuity whereas the alpha oscillations index the temporal organization of perception. To that end, 39 subjects were asked to focus on performing two mental functions engaging working memory, which involved mental self-projection into either the present-past (PP) border or the present-future (PF) border. To evaluate underlying mechanisms, the evoked frontal late positive potentials (LPP) as well as their cortical sources were analyzed via the standardized low-resolution brain electromagnetic tomography (sLORETA) technique.
Results: The LPP amplitudes - in the left lateral prefrontal areas that were elicited during PF tasks - were significantly higher than those associated with PP, whereas opposite patterns were observed in the central and right prefrontal areas. Crucially, the LPP activations of both the PP and PF self-projections overlapped with the brain’s default mode network and related interacting areas. Finally, we found enhanced alpha-related activation with respect to PP in comparison to PF, predominantly over the right hemisphere central brain regions (specifically, the precentral gyrus).
Conclusions: These findings confirm that the two types of self-projection, as reflected by the frontally-distributed LPP, share common cortical resources that recruit different brain regions in a balanced way. This balanced distribution of brain activation might signify that biological time tends to behave in a homeostatic way.