One type relies on memories from past experiences. The other on rhythm. Both are critical to our ability to navigate and enjoy the world.
New University of California, Berkeley, research shows the neural networks supporting each of these timekeepers are split between two different parts of the brain, depending on the task at hand.
The findings, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, offer a new perspective on how humans calculate when to make a move. The researchers studied the anticipatory timing strengths and deficits of people with Parkinson's disease and people with cerebellar degeneration.
They connected rhythmic timing to the basal ganglia, and interval timing, an internal timer based largely on our memory of prior experiences, to the cerebellum. Both are primal brain regions associated with movement and cognition.
Moreover, their results suggest that if one of these neural clocks is misfiring, the other could theoretically step in. Non-pharmaceutical fixes for neurological timing deficits could include brain-training computer games and smartphone apps, deep brain stimulation and environmental design modifications.
The results confirm that the brain uses two different mechanisms for anticipatory timing, challenging theories that a single brain system handles all our timing needs, researchers said.