Journal of Neuropsychology

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Retrospective time estimation following damage to the prefrontal cortex

Time estimation in patients with prefrontal cortex (PFC) damage is often inaccurate. The relationship between PFC and estimation of short time intervals has been examined. However, it remains unclear whether PFC damage affects estimation of longer time intervals. Here, we investigated the ability of patients and healthy subjects to verbally estimate a period of 30 min, using a method easily applied in clinical settings. In 99 patients with brain damage, we compared under and normal ranges of time in patients with PFC damage or damage to other brain areas with the chi‐squared test. Subsequently, we conducted a discriminant analysis and a multiple linear regression analysis to identify specific brain areas affecting time estimation. We observed a significantly larger number of patients who overestimated 30 min in the group with bilateral PFC damage compared to patients with damage to other regions. Discriminant analysis revealed that damage of right lateral PFC and left medial PFC contributed to discrimination between the normal range and overestimation groups. Multiple linear regression analysis indicated that right lateral PFC damage strongly affected overestimation of a 30‐min interval. Neuropsychological test results revealed lower general cognitive function scores and orientation scores in overestimation group. The length of estimated time and the score of delayed word recall were negatively correlated. We propose that these may require encoding, maintenance, and updating of memory and are indirectly related to contextual memory. We discuss hypotheses on contextual memory segmentation and reconstruction to clarify the mechanism of impaired time overestimation in PFC‐damaged patients.

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