Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit, UCL, London, UK
Sensory input can distort our perception of time. For instance, a visual stimulus containing high temporal frequencies or fast motion will on average seem to last longer than a stimulus with low temporal frequencies or slow motion, even when the physical duration is the same.
We show that this and several similar phenomena may be explained by assuming that sensory input is used in a probabilistic manner to aid time estimation. Since natural visual (or auditory) scenes evolve according to well-defined temporal statistics, observations of natural stimuli can be used to provide probabilistic constraints on elapsed time. Unnatural stimuli, such as those described above, can therefore distort time perception.
A key prediction of this framework is that implicit “jumps” or “pauses” in perceptual processes should expand or contract, respectively, their perceived duration. We present data from a new psychophysical experiment that tests this prediction in the setting of linear motion. A linearly translating box was caused to jump or pause in its motion, whilst hidden behind an occluder. Subjects judged the duration of the motion to be longer (jor jumps) and shorter (for pauses) than the veridical duration of the motion. This result is in agreement with the theoretically derived prediction.