Temporal receptive windows and executive functions, Other Subject

Temporal receptive windows and executive functions

Being able to integrate information over time is crucial for perception of life events as they typically unfold over longer timescales. Consider, for instance, a fairly frequent type of event, greeting a person you have not seen in a while. It involves taking the initial eye contact, walking towards each other, saying hellos, shaking hands, and quickly exchanging information about how things are and have been. All this happens over a few tens of seconds or a few minutes, and one has to retain information over the span of the interaction, interpreting facial expressions and what is being said based on the evolving context.


A hierarchy of temporal receptive windows of the brain has been shown in studies that have looked at which brain areas show correlated activity across subjects when they listen to an audio story, either the full forward version, vs. when the story is scrambled at paragraph, sentence, or word level. It was observed that the more the temporal structure was preserved, the more anterior frontal lobe areas showed correlated activity across subjects (Lerner et al., 2011). These findings suggested that anterior prefrontal cortical areas are specifically important for integrating information over longer timescales, thus making it possible to interpret individual sentences in the context of the evolving narrative.


Another line of evidence pointing to a hierarchy of temporal receptive windows comes from studies that have looked at specific frequency bands of brain activity in which correlations across subjects are highest in different brain areas when subjects are watching a narrative movie that is composed of information distributed over multiple timescales. Anterior frontal lobe structures seem to exhibit across-subjects correlated activity specifically in lower frequency bands that carry information that evolves more slowly across time (Kauppi et al., 2010). Hierarchy of neuronal adaptation time scales is one potential neural mechanism underlying such findings (i.e., adaptation of neurons for brief periods of time allow the brain to integrate information over time) (Jaaskelainen et al., 2011).
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