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Psychology Time Perception
by
Richard A. Block, Peter A. Hancock

Introduction

The term time perception refers to a large subfield within the more general study of the psychology of time. It is an old and venerable topic in psychology. When psychology emerged from philosophy and medicine in the late 1800s, time perception became a major topic of interest. Researchers investigated many aspects of the psychology of time, especially the relationships between psychological and “real” (physical) time. Later, in about 1920, the tide turned: in the United States, behavioral psychologists asserted that psychologists should not investigate such topics. European psychologists did not agree, and they continued to investigate time perception, as they still do. Beginning in the 1960s, however, time psychologists started to be influential in the mainstream, even in the United States. They investigated how time perception involves many other processes. They began to integrate time perception along with attention, memory, and other cognitive psychological topics. After about the 1960s, and continuing to the present, time perception has seen a resurgence of interest. Now even an American time researcher can hold her or his head up and be proud to say, “I’m back.” This article focuses on the history and resurgence of time perception instead of the much more diverse topics of the psychology of time. Thus, we are excluding many references to clinical, pathology, personality, social, and other aspects of the psychology of time. This article includes only a few citations in those other subareas of psychology, mostly those that relate directly to time perception. The article presents a selective list of citations, undoubtedly omitting many important ones from hundreds of researchers, for anyone to get started on this fascinating topic. Given the selective nature of this article, there is only a limited number of publications can be included out of more than 13,000 of the journal articles, book chapters, and books published from the 1860s through the 2010s—more than 150 years of time perception research.

General Overviews

General overviews have been published in many edited books and chapters. Some of the more recent and influential are noted here. In chronological order: the edited volume Michon and Jackson 1985, from a conference in The Netherlands, is still of interest. McGrath 1986 is a mostly social psychological book. Block 1990 is a book on cognitive models, which is still relevant. Friedman 1990 revealed how time experience relies on different processes and that it is important to understand temporal experience as involving separate components. Macar, et al. 1992 contains edited chapters based on presentations at a conference in France, and these are still worth reading. Helfrich 2003 is an important book, along with an earlier one, from two conferences in Germany. Meck 2003 focused on scalar timing and neural mechanisms, and it is also important to time researchers. More recently, Grondin 2008 contains many important chapters. Contemporary researchers of time psychophysics, time perception, and time cognition will want to read most of the chapters in it.

Reference Resources

Although one can search on Google, most experts use PsycINFO or MEDLINE to find relevant research. In PsycINFO, the main descriptor terms are (a) time perception—“perception of duration, simultaneity, or succession in the passage of time”; (b) a narrower term, time estimation— “estimation of duration or passage of time”; and (c) another term, time perspective—“mental representation of temporal relationships or the capacity to remember events in their actual chronology. . . also, one’s outlook on the past, present, and/or future in relation to subjective qualities of time passage.” The term time—“continuum in which events or experiences are expressed in terms of the past, the present, and the future”—will retrieve a wide variety of articles, some irrelevant to searching on a specific subject. For effects of time of day (i.e., circadian rhythms) or season, the term biological rhythms will retrieve a search and a list of related terms. In MEDLINE, using the MeSH (medical subject heading) term time perception will retrieve many biomedical, psychophysiological, and other such articles, both relevant and irrelevant to an interested researcher. References in PsycINFO are not necessarily listed in MEDLINE, and vice-versa.

Bibliographies

Many important bibliographies on time perception and related topics have been published. Several of these are interdisciplinary, dated, and somewhat superseded by others, although they are still useful. In chronological order: Zelkind and Sprug 1974; Krudy, et al. 1976; Das 1990; and Macey 1991. Especially noteworthy is Roeckelein 2000 (335 pages) with excellent narrative reviews of literature on four major topics: “Prescientific Accounts of Time” (pp. 1–50); “Early Scientific Accounts of Time in Psychology (1860–1910)” (pp. 51–92); “Premodern Scientific Accounts of Time in Psychology (1911–1949)” (pp. 93–110); and “Modern Scientific Accounts of Time in Psychology (1950–1999)” (pp. 111–156). The final chapter is a well-annotated “Bibliography of Time Studies in Psychology (1980–1999)” (pp. 157–296), which contains 906 references.

History of the Psychology of Time

Several researchers have written histories on the psychology of time. Of course, other bibliographic compilers have also written notes to accompany their lists of references (see sources under Bibliographies). Several selective historical accounts were recently published. All of these cover the psychology of time, not only the subfield of time perception. Friedman 2000 is an interesting book chapter. Another article of interest is Hancock and Block 2012, appearing in a major journal. The book chapter in Block and Zakay 2001 contained a graph depicting the number of publications on the psychology of time in each decade from the 19th century to 2000 CE. The book chapter in Roeckelein 2008 is perhaps the most comprehensive, and it includes many references.

  • Block, R. A., and D. Zakay. 2001. Psychological time at the millennium: Some past, present, future, and interdisciplinary issues. In Time: Perspectives at the millennium. Vol. 10 of The study of time. Edited by M. P. Soulsby and J. T. Fraser, 157–173. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

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    This book chapter reviews the psychology of time through 2000.

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  • Friedman, W. 2000. Time in psychology. In Time in contemporary intellectual thought. Edited by P. Baert, 295–314. AZimuth 2. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1387-6783(00)80018-5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A very thoughtful and interesting review article.

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  • Hancock, P. A., and R. A. Block. 2012. The psychology of time: A view backward and forward. American Journal of Psychology 125.3: 267–274.

    DOI: 10.5406/amerjpsyc.125.3.0267Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Published in the 125th anniversary issue of the American Journal of Psychology, a historical account reviewing more than a century of research on the psychology of time, with special mention of articles that have been published in that journal. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Roeckelein, J. E. 2008. History of conceptions and accounts of time and early time perception research. In Psychology of time. Edited by S. Grondin, 1–50. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

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    An excellent account of the history of the psychology of time. The author is an expert on this issue. Includes many citations that space precludes us from listing in the present bibliography.

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Early Articles on Time Perception, 315 BCE–1891 CE

The origins of early ideas about time date at least as far as the famous philosophical thoughts of Aristotle c. 315 BCE; McKeon 1941 provided a translation. In about 400 CE, St. Augustine penned some influential thoughts, as Killeen, et al. 1997 noted. Much more recently, several research articles were published in the 19th century, such as by two students of Karl von Vierordt at Universität Tübingen. However, the earliest important research into time perception was Vierordt 1868, whose author was primarily a physician. Vierordt’s research findings have not yet been translated and published in English, but see Lejeune and Wearden 2009 for an early-21st-century account. Vierordt used the method of reproduction, with durations ranging from about 0.2 sec. to 65.1 sec., for example. Apparently, only data from two subjects were obtained—him and a student. Widely known for “Vierordt’s Law,” in which relatively short durations are overestimated and relatively long durations are slightly underestimated. This was one of the first empirical studies of time estimation, with the exception of two earlier PhD dissertations by his students. The English title translation is questionable. Lejeune and Wearden 2009 offers a translation of the work as “The experimental study of the time sense.” (That article is the best English-language description of Vierordt’s methods and findings.) Guyau 1988 and James 1890 contributed famous early insights on time perception. James, the first famous American psychologist, wrote two chapters (chapters 15 and 16) in the monumental book James 1890, in which he described many aspects of psychological time that more recent researchers have continued to investigate. According to him, time past was a function of memory and attention, topics that later became among the most explored psychological phenomena. In the next chapter, he focused on time present. It was in that chapter, and the following chapter, that he described what was then known about the “Perception of Time” and “Memory.”

  • Guyau, J. M. 1988. The origin of the idea of time. In Guyau and the idea of time. Edited and translated by J. A. Michon, V. Pouthas, and J. L. Jackson, 93–148. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

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    (Original work published in 1890.) A very prescient book about time perception, which was not widely known or cited until the editors translated it into English and added some very lucid commentary on it.

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  • James, W. 1890. The principles of psychology. Vol. 1. New York: Henry Holt.

    DOI: 10.1037/11059-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Certainly one of the seminal figures in all of psychology, he placed time perception at the very center of consciousness, juxtaposing it with memory and future planning. Time perception never occupied the central place in the subsequent development of psychology that he envisaged.

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  • Killeen, P. R., J. G. Fetterman, and L. A. Bizo. 1997. Time’s causes. In Time and behaviour: Psychological and neurobehavioural analyses. Edited by C. M. Bradshaw and E. Szabadi, 79–131. Advances in Psychology 120. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0166-4115(97)80055-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    What is time? These authors review some of the early history, including descriptions of Aristotle’s and St. Augustine’s ideas.

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  • Lejeune, H., and J. Wearden. 2009. Vierordt’s The experimental study of the time sense (1868) and its legacy. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology 21.6: 941–990.

    DOI: 10.1080/09541440802453006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An excellent, early-21st-century review of Karl von Vierordt and his seminal time-estimation research (see Vierordt 1868). Includes historical comments of great interest, graphs of his data, and many other gems. A must read. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • McKeon, R., ed. 1941. The basic works of Aristotle. New York: Random House.

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    Aristotle had many interesting insights into time perception. This is the best translation of his works from c. 315 BCE.

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  • Nichols, H. 1891. The psychology of time. American Journal of Psychology 4.1: 60–112.

    DOI: 10.2307/1411839Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historically interesting review of the early psychology of time. This is a classic review that appeared in the first and oldest continuously published English-language psychological journal. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Vierordt, K. von. 1868. Der Zeitsinn nach Versuchen. Tübingen, Germany: Laupp.

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    Translated in English as “Empirical studies of time experience.” In his seminal work on time perception, Vierordt made many empirical discoveries. Although it is not yet translated and published in English, Lejeune and Wearden have an excellent summary of it (see Lejeune and Wearden 2009). An issue of the journal Acta Psychologica, partly in honor of Vierordt, appears as a 2013 special issue publication.

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Subsequent Research on Time Perception, 1892–1956

Although this era (1892–1956) was somewhat of a hiatus for time perception research, especially in the United States, many researchers conducted studies on time perception. In some of these, subjects performed various tasks, usually without regard to any theoretical differences in terms of cognitive load, for example. Nevertheless, these experiments paved the road to a more modern analysis of time and rhythm perception. Sturt 1925 is an important book from this era. François 1927 is a seminal article (in French) on the role of body temperature. Some later articles were published in the prominent review journal Psychological Bulletin, including Gilliland, et al. 1946 and Weber 1933. Other important articles during this era, including Gulliksen 1927, Harton 1938, and Hoagland 1933, were published in other empirical journals, such as the Journal of Experimental Psychology. Woodrow 1951 is an influential review article, which is still worth reading, although mostly now only for historical interest.

Origins of Modern Research on Time Perception, 1957–1964

The modern era of time perception began in about 1957. Fraisse 1963 is a very important book on many aspects of psychological time. This was a seminal piece of reviewing and writing. Frankenhaeuser 1959 reported many studies, including some on the effects of drugs on time perception. Loehlin 1959 reported much research obtaining time estimates, using different activities (unfortunately not theoretically based). Wallace and Rabin 1960 is an influential review article. Adams 1964 contains one of the more infamous quotes on time perception: “Time perception is a venerable, tired topic in psychology that interests very few active investigators any more, perhaps because no one bothered to explore the mechanisms of time perception and how it might enter into meaningful interaction with other mechanisms” (p. 197). This was not the death knell for time perception research. Since 1964, many researchers took Adams’s challenge, and they have investigated time perception and shed new light on interactions with other processes.

  • Adams, J. A. 1964. Motor skills. Annual Review of Psychology 15:181–202.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ps.15.020164.001145Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Review article not worth reading except for a curious historian. In it, however, the author wrote an infamous statement on time perception research (see above), which came out of the blue in his “Overview.” This article did not actually review time perception research. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Fraisse, P. 1963. The psychology of time. Translated by J. Leith. New York: Harper & Row.

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    (Original work published in 1957.) These very important and influential books (see also P. Fraisse, Psychologie du temps [Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1957]) are by the preeminent French scholar on the psychology of time. Most time researchers have probably read (and treasured) the English translation. When one of us (R. Block) was a PhD candidate, one of the faculty would only loan, but not give, this book to him.

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  • Frankenhaeuser, M. 1959. Estimation of time: An experimental study. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

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    In her best work, she reported findings of a series of experiments in which she obtained both “present-time” and “past-time” estimates. Some participants in these studies were given psychoactive drugs, such as pentobarbital or methamphetamine.

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  • Loehlin, J. C. 1959. The influence of different activities on the apparent length of time. Psychological Monographs: General and Applied 73.4: 1–27.

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    Classic study using various tasks and methods. Data are of special interest in that he studied a relatively large number of subjects as they estimated durations. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wallace, M., and A. I. Rabin. 1960. Temporal experience. Psychological Bulletin 57.3: 213–236.

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    Culmination of a sequence of review articles that appeared in this influential journal. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Late 20th and Early 21st Century, 1965–Present

Beginning roughly in about 1965, we must begin to classify the many diverse studies of the psychology of time into different categories. The psychological study of time emerged in a large way, with many diverse threads, as Hancock and Block 2012 reported (cited under History of the Psychology of Time). These threads may be grouped in many ways. What follows below is only one possible way of classifying them. In a few cases, articles or books are listed only once, although they might realistically appear under more than one heading. Piaget 1969 is the author’s very influential book on the perception of time in children (cited under Developmental, Gender, Social, and Cross-Cultural Differences). Ornstein 1969 is the small paperback edition of the author’s dissertation at Stanford University. He reported many experiments in which he collected data, focusing on retrospective duration judgments. His review of earlier theories was lucid and entertaining. The research reported in it was an inspiration to many time researchers. Michon 1967 is an influential book. Soon thereafter, Doob 1971 contained a massive theoretical review and classification of the extant literature in time perception and many other areas of the psychology of time. Gibson 1975, by an important perceptual theorist, argued that events are perceivable, but time is not perceivable. Thus, the term time perception is a misnomer. Nevertheless, Fraisse 1984, by a leading French scholar, reviewed time perception and time estimation in a major outlet. Fraisse provided very critical reviews of some research.

  • Block, R. A. 1979. Time and consciousness. In Aspects of consciousness. Vol. 1, Psychological issues. Edited by G. Underwood and R. Stevens, 179–217. London: Academic Press.

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    Wide-ranging book chapter on time perception in ordinary and altered states of consciousness.

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  • Doob, L. W. 1971. Patterning of time. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Comprehensive text in which the author emphasized the importance of considering large individual differences, even in the perception of brief intervals. A large theoretically driven classification and listing of many important works.

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  • Fraisse, P. 1984. Perception and estimation of time. Annual Review of Psychology 35:1–36.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ps.35.020184.000245Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Very important review article, as well as a citation classic. Some conclusions seem questionable in the light of recent research. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Gibson, J. J. 1975. Events are perceivable but time is not. In The study of time II: Proceedings of the Second Conference of the International Society for the Study of Time, Lake Yamanaka, Japan. Edited by J. T. Fraser and N. Lawrence, 295–301. New York: Springer-Verlag.

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    Extended his well-known principles of “direct” perception to the thorny issue of time perception, which, necessarily, is not directly perceivable. In part, this article influenced Zakay and Block 1997 (cited under Time in Passing and Time in Retrospect) and other time researchers to avoid the term time perception in favor of other terms, such as temporal cognition.

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  • Michon, J. A. 1967. Timing in temporal tracking. Soesterberg, The Netherlands: Institute for Perception RVO-TNO.

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    Interesting book from an influential theorist and researcher who also contributed to the applied psychology of time. See also J. A. Michon, “Studies on Subjective Duration: II. Subjective Time Measurement during Tasks with Different Information Content” (Acta Psychologica 24 [1965]: 205–219).

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  • Ornstein, R. E. 1969. On the experience of time. Penguin Science of Behaviour. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

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    One of the best theoretical and empirical studies, which reinvigorated interest in time perception in the decades of the 1970s and beyond. This work has helped sustain that interest since then. Based on a PhD dissertation at Stanford University. Reported nine fascinating experiments using retrospective estimates of duration. Rejected a “sensory process” view of psychological time.

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Time Perception Methods

Several recent researchers have described methods to investigate time perception. One could read these selected articles chronologically, starting with Hornstein and Rotter 1969. Many researchers need to know about these methods, which were expertly reviewed more recently in Grondin 2008 and Zakay 1990. Of course, researchers have used many other methods, such as the peak procedure in animal research (see the section on Scalar Expectancy Theory (SET)).

  • Grondin, S. 2008. Methods for studying psychological time. In Psychology of time. Edited by S. Grondin, 51–74. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

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    Excellent early-21st-century review of many methods, including psychophysical and other methods, used to study time perception and time estimation.

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  • Hornstein, A. D., and G. S. Rotter. 1969. Research methodology in temporal perception. Journal of Experimental Psychology 79.3 (Pt. 1): 561–564.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0026870Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Concise and useful summary of early approaches to the methods involved in time perception and time estimation, including verbal estimation, production, and reproduction methods. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Zakay, D. 1990. The evasive art of subjective time measurement: Some methodological dilemmas. In Cognitive models of psychological time. Edited by R. A. Block, 59–84. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Lucidly described the advantages and disadvantages of using various time estimation methodologies.

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Psychophysics of Time Perception

Research exploring the functional relationships that relate duration lengths (mostly relatively short durations) to time estimates were among the earliest explored in the field of time perception. Studies date at least as far back to Vierordt 1868 (cited under Early Articles on Time Perception, 315 BCE–1891 CE. The exponential function relating time estimation and physical time seems to be nearly linear, although Eisler 1975 meta-analyzed results showing an exponent close to 0.9 sec, which reflects slightly shortened estimations of relatively longer durations, according to Vierordt’s Law. Eisler and Eisler 1992, among the authors’ other research articles, reported interesting psychophysical evidence. Allan 1979; Eisler, et al. 2008; Grondin 2001a; Grondin 2001b; and Grondin 2008 (the latter cited under Time Perception Methods) are excellent recent reviews. Grondin 2010 is an excellent review of the 21st century. Pöppel 1988, written by someone who is not actually a psychophysicist, should be read by all, including psychophysicists.

Origins of Pacemaker-Accumulator Models

Creelman 1962 proposed probably the first model in which an oscillating or random process (a pacemaker) generates pulses with a fixed frequency, whereas another process (the accumulator) counts the number of these pulses. Treisman 1963 and Treisman, et al. 1990 provided early, classic views on the need to propose this kind of an “internal clock” underlying interval timing. Allan and Kristofferson 1974 reviewed some of the early evidence on three theories. A somewhat similar kind of idea, with other evidence, was also found in Eisler 1975; Eisler and Eisler 1992; and Eisler, et al. 2008 (all cited under Psychophysics of Time Perception) in psychophysical models seeming to show a “break” in the function relating reproduction of durations to actual durations. Gibbon 1977 and Roberts 1998 provided good reviews of pacemaker-accumulator models, which arose from much earlier nonhuman animal research on schedules of reinforcement, such as fixed-interval schedules. We cite only a few of the more readable, early articles that provided some origins of pacemaker-accumulator models of time perception. In more recent times, researchers use a peak procedure, interval bisection, and other methods. Scalar Expectancy Theory (SET) became a leading model, although it was later challenged by the attentional-gate model (AGM) and other models.

Scalar Expectancy Theory (SET)

Beginning with animal (mostly rat) research in the 1980s, researchers used variants of older fixed-interval schedules of reinforcement. Although the most influential procedure was the peak procedure, in which nonreinforced trials were inserted into the protocol, other methods (such as interval bisection) were also used. This led to the proposal of a functional model (scalar expectancy theory, or SET) of short-interval timing in Church 1984; Church 1989; Allan 1992; Church 2003; and Gibbon, et al. 1984. A landmark book was Gibbon and Allan 1984. Pouthas and Perbal 2004 also reported interesting research. SET was widely researched and vastly supported by evidence. Meck 2003 is also highly recommended.

The Influence of Attention on Time Perception

Scalar Expectancy Theory (SET) was widely researched and vastly supported, first by nonhuman then by some human research. Later, attention was also thought to play an important role in prospective timing. In a seminal article, Thomas and Weaver 1975 reported that a stimulus is analyzed by an information processor and a timer and that attention is shared between these processors. Zakay and Block 1996 and Block and Zakay 1996 proposed the attentional-gate model (AGM). Although somewhat controversial according to Lejeune 1998, Zakay 2000 wrote a rejoinder. The AGM has continued to receive empirical support. However, theorists such as Block (Block 2003) proposed that models without a timer (i.e., without a pacemaker-accumulator system) can also explain much of the evidence.

Time in Passing and Time in Retrospect

James 1890 (cited under Early Articles on Time Perception, 315 BCE–1891 CE) had eloquently described the differences between time in passing and time in retrospect, and Fraisse 1963 (cited under Origins of Modern Research on Time Perception, 1957–1964) had also described and expertly reviewed them. Perhaps as a result, Hicks and his collogues (Hicks, et al. 1976) conducted two seminal experiments. The authors reported evidence on differences between what are still commonly called the prospective paradigm and the retrospective paradigm. In the prospective paradigm, subjects are informed in advance that they will be asked to judge the duration of an event or episode (series of events). In the retrospective paradigm, subjects receive no forewarning and are asked to judge the duration of an event or episode only after it has occurred. Manipulating information content (i.e., number of bits of information processed), Hicks, et al. 1976 found effects in opposite directions in the two duration-judgment paradigms. Empirical articles in Brown 1985 and Brown and Stubbs 1992 provided evidence and sometimes challenged the distinction between prospective and retrospective duration-judgment processes. Although some researchers have questioned this difference, Block, et al. 2010 and Block and Zakay 1997 present meta-analyses that support it, along with finding that different variables moderate the effect separately in the two paradigms. Zakay, et al. 1994 reported evidence on segmentation, which had been reported in Poynter 1989 (cited under Time Past (Remembered Duration)) as well as other issues. Block and Zakay 1996 reviewed other evidence. Zakay and Block 1997 is a short, highly cited article describing differences between prospective and retrospective time judgments.

Time Present (Experienced Duration)

Many researchers have studied the prospective paradigm of time perception, and most theorists now conclude that attention to time is critical in influencing time estimates. Vroon 1970 reported effects of “presented and processed information,” and Brown 1997 reported effects of “attentional resources.” Boltz 1993, as well as Jones and Boltz 1989, reported experiments on temporal expectancies, or “dynamic attending.” Macar, et al. 1994 discussed “controlled sharing” of attention.” The review article Zakay 1992 noted how temporal relevance and temporal uncertainty are influential in time experience. Eisler 2003, written by a mathematical modeler of the psychophysics of relatively short time estimates, quantified time estimates in the prospective paradigm and argued for a parallel-clock model.

Time Past (Remembered Duration)

James 1890 (cited under Early Articles on Time Perception, 315 BCE–1891 CE) first proposed that judgment of duration in retrospective was based on a person’s number of memories from the time interval. Later still, Fraisse 1963 (cited under Origins of Modern Research on Time Perception, 1957–1964) suggested that the remembered number of changes was the important factor. Ornstein 1969 conducted nine important experiments on remembered duration. As noted earlier, the landmark study in Hicks, et al. 1976 followed (cited under Time in Passing and Time in Retrospect). Block and Reed (Block and Reed 1978) conducted two experiments supporting a contextual change hypothesis, in which retrospective duration judgments lengthened as a function of the amount of encoded and retrieved changes in context, including processing-context and other kinds of changes. The findings also rejected earlier ideas that the remembered number of events was the critical factor. Poynter 1989 found that the amount of segmentation of an interval lengthened retrospective duration. Segmentation, however, might be subsumed under the more general notion of contextual changes. Boltz 1995 found important evidence that event structure influences time perception. Several other researchers also studied remembered duration, as Block and Reed 1978 called it in its review chapter. More real-world, applied research was published along the way in Buckhout, et al. 1989 and Loftus, et al. 1987. Van de Ven, et al. 2011 reported interesting data in a field situation suggesting that when people return from a trip, they judge that trip to be shorter in duration than the initial trip. Of the more ecological research, however, the most recent article was based on data collected in Srinivasan, et al. 2013. The authors obtained retrospective duration judgments from men attending a festival in Mela, India.

Past Time: Autobiographical Memory and Recency Judgments

Some memory researchers have studies on how people remember the recency, or dates, of autobiographical (episodic memory) events. This section includes a few of the more interesting articles. Baddeley, et al. 1978 reported early evidence. Linton 1978 conducted a personal experimental study of the author’s memories. Yarmey 2000 reported interesting data on time estimates of naturalistic events. Studies of recency judgments also include laboratory data. For example, Hintzman 2005 studied temporal judgments in many experiments, not only in this one article. Perhaps more importantly, Friedman 1996 reviewed two kinds of processes involved in these kinds of judgments.

Future Time: Prospective Memory

Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, memory researchers began to distinguish between the previously studied retrospective remembering and the newly studied prospective remembering, which is now usually called prospective memory. Of particular relevance to this article is the distinction between two kinds of prospective memory. In event-based prospective memory, a person forms an intent to remember to perform some action when a specific future event occurs. In time-based prospective memory, a person forms an intent to remember to perform some action at a specific time in the future. Block and Zakay 2006 and Block and Zakay 2008 reviewed theories and evidence on this distinction and likened some of the processes involved in time-based prospective remembering to time perception and estimation in the prospective duration-judgment paradigm. An entire book on this is worth reading: Glicksohn and Myslobodsky 2006. Roy, et al. 2005 is an empirical report with an excellent review of research. Schacter, et al. 2007 provide an overview somewhat related to this topic, but focusing more on “neural machinery.”

  • Block, R. A., and D. Zakay. 2006. Prospective remembering involves time estimation and memory processes. In Timing the future: The case for a time-based prospective memory. Edited by J. Glicksohn and M. S. Myslobodsky, 25–49. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific.

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    Described a connection between prospective memory (remembering) and duration judgments made in the prospective paradigm.

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  • Block, R. A., and D. Zakay. 2008. Timing and remembering the past, the present, and the future. In Psychology of time. Edited by S. Grondin, 367–394. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

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    Focused partly on prospective memory, but a broader theoretical review, including a review on retrospective and prospective timing.

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  • Glicksohn, J., and M. S. Myslobodsky, eds. 2006. Timing the future: The case for a time-based prospective memory. Hackensack, NJ: World Scientific.

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    Important book containing articles on prospective memory, mostly slanted toward time-based prospective memory, but also including theoretical reviews on event-based prospective memory.

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  • Roy, M. M., N. J. S. Christenfeld, and C. R. M. McKenzie. 2005. Underestimating the duration of future events: Memory incorrectly used or memory bias? Psychological Bulletin 131.5: 738–756.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.5.738Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Among several important empirical articles by the first author and his colleagues, this article reviewed explanations of why people tend to underestimate the duration of future events. Their conclusion is that people do so because they tend to underestimate past durations, and they cite Vierordt 1868 (cited under Early Articles on Time Perception, 315 BCE–1891 CE) on this issue, along with many more recent studies. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Schacter, D. L., D. R. Addis, and R. Buckner. 2007. Remembering the past to imagine the future: The prospective brain. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 8.9: 657–661.

    DOI: 10.1038/nrn2213Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article not on prospective memory per se, but certainly relates to that topic. Mental and brain underpinnings of simulating and predicting possibilities in the future, and how these processes relate to remembering the past. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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Brain and Time

Many researchers have studied the underpinnings of timing and time perception, including circadian rhythms, neurophysiological correlates, neurotransmitter systems, and—more recently—brain imaging. It has become apparent that widely distributed areas of the brain subserve these processes. Researchers and theorists have begun to try to understand how the brain is involved in time perception.

Theoretical Views

Some theorists have presented important arguments about how time is represented in the brain. We suggest these references for a start on this topic. Dennett and Kinsbourne 1992 presented an interesting mix of philosophy and brain theories, both part of cognitive science. Ivry and Spencer 2004, as well as Rao, et al. 2001, assumed a neurobiological stance. Eagleman, et al. 2005 reported on time and brain processes in an interesting review, and Eagleman and Pariyadath 2009 provided a similar theoretical approach. Hancock 2010 is a more recent, wide-ranging review.

Circadian Timing and Related Duration Experience

Although the multiple, widely distributed brain areas involved in duration timing are still being actively investigated and debated, circadian timing is relatively well understood. Some early chronobiological research conducted in Aschoff 1965, Aschoff 1984, and Aschoff 1998 is essential, although somewhat technical for those not suited to the kinds of measurement used. Siffre 1964 is a first-person account of the author’s time in a cold cave. Thanks to researchers who have followed in the footsteps of these pioneers, it is now known that the “master clock” subserving circadian timing is the suprachiasmatic nucleus. Because the focus of the present bibliography is not on chronobiology or sleep-wake cycles, this section includes only a few relevant articles in which time estimates were obtained. Beginning in about the 1980s, reviews and research reports Campbell 1990 and Campbell, et al. 2001 began to reveal the lack of relationship between circadian rhythms and time perception on shorter (e.g., one hour) time scales.

  • Aschoff, J. 1984. Circadian timing. Paper presented at the conference for Timing and Time Perception, New York Academy of Sciences, 11–13 May 1983. In Timing and time perception. Edited by J. Gibbon and L. G. Allan, 442–468. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 423. New York: New York Academy of Sciences.

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    Important overview of research, focusing on circadian rhythms and chronobiology. A keynote presentation summarizing many crucial contributions.

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  • Aschoff, J. 1998. Human perception of short and long time intervals: Its correlation with body temperature and the duration of wake time. Journal of Biological Rhythms 13.5: 437–442.

    DOI: 10.1177/074873098129000264Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Another article focusing on the difference between estimates of short and long intervals (e.g., an hour) and circadian rhythms. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Aschoff, J., ed. 1965. Circadian clocks: Proceedings of the Feldafing Summer School, 7–18 September 1964. Amsterdam: North-Holland.

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    Important overview of early work, focusing on circadian rhythms and chronobiology.

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  • Campbell, S. S. 1990. Circadian rhythms and human temporal experience. In Cognitive models of psychological time. Edited by R. A. Block, 101–118. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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    Excellent review of research on time perception and circadian rhythms.

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  • Campbell, S. S., P. J. Murphy, and C. E. Boothroyd. 2001. Long-term time estimation is influenced by circadian phase. Physiology & Behavior 72.4: 589–593.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0031-9384(01)00414-0Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Study on time estimation and circadian rhythms. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Siffre, M. 1964. Beyond time. Translated by H. Briffault. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    Individual account of the variation in time perception of an individual isolated from external time cues deep in a cave environment. Perhaps because of his near-hypothermic condition in the cave, upon exiting it, he greatly underestimated the number of days he was in it.

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Neurophysiological and Neuropsychological Findings

Many researchers have reported neurophysiological or neuropsychological findings relevant to how diverse areas of the brain subserve time perception. This section includes only a few of them. Binkofski and Block 1996 reported an interesting case study of a man with a tumor in his prefrontal cortex. However, other brain areas are also involved in time perception, and many researchers published articles, including Gibbon, et al. 1997; Macar 1998; and Keele and Ivry 1990, containing important information on the connections among these diverse areas, including the cerebellum. Wearden and Penton-Voak (Wearden and Penton-Voak 1995), among others, found that brain temperature also influences any pacemaker or pacemakers in these diverse neural circuits. Miall 1996 is an interesting article on these kinds of issues.

Neurotransmitter and Psychopharmacological Findings

Space constraints prevent us from citing all the relevant articles on neurotransmitter systems subserving time perception. In addition, covering all the effects of psychoactive drugs on time perception would be a monumental task. This section includes only four articles on this topic to entice anyone who is curious. Buhusi 2003 and Buhusi and Meck 2005 found that dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters involved in time perception. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter in the basal ganglia and the prefrontal cortex. Also in the articles Gruber and Block 2005 and Rammsayer 1993, dopamine plays an important role.

Electroencephalographic and Neuroimaging Findings

Early electroencephalographic (EEG) research led to later research on event-related potentials (ERP) and brain imaging (CT, PET, and so on) while people perform time-related tasks. We cite only a very few relevant articles. Some of the earliest reported EEG findings were in Surwillo 1966 and Elbert, et al. 1991. Others, such as Rammsayer and Skrandies 1997 followed with broader reviews, such as Casini and Macar 1999 on an internal clock and attention. When neuroimaging became feasible for time perception studies, articles using that began to appear, such as Meck and Malapani 2004.

Developmental, Gender, Social, and Cross-Cultural Differences

Most time perception research has been mostly oriented toward experimental or cognitive psychology. However, some developmental, gender, social, and cross-cultural researchers have also described time perception. We mention only a few of these works that are important, interesting, or good reads. On the development of time concepts in children, one book stands out as a classic. Levin and Zakay 1989 is a very important volume that includes some chapters not focused on developmental issues. In a later edited book, Friedman 1982, contributors reviewed developmental issues. Droit-Volet 2013 is an example of an early-21st-century article published by an influential researcher. Several interesting books, such as Levine 1997, McGrath and Kelly 1986, and McGrath and Tschan 2004 centered on social and cross-cultural issues. Boroditsky and Ramscar 2002 focused on how people understand time, using linguistic materials. Hancock 2011 is an excellent book on sex differences in time perception. On time perspective, one book stands out as a starting reference: Zimbardo and Boyd 2008.

Aging and Time Perception

Many researchers are now becoming interested in time perception in older adults. Only a few articles for future researchers are mentioned to clarify. Block and his colleagues (Block, et al. 1998) conducted a large meta-analysis on this topic. As the former went into press, Craik and Hay (Craik and Hay 1999) published research that importantly clarified the effect of aging on time perception. Further, Lustig and Meck 2001 is an interesting article on this topic.

Applied Psychology of Time Perception

The concept of cognitive load is multifaceted. However, several researchers have found that prospective time estimates are an important and reliable measure of cognitive load while a person is performing a complex perceptual-motor task (such as driving an automobile or piloting an airplane). This section includes only a few of the more important research articles, which are selected for their importance or potential interest. Wierwille and Connor 1983 and Wierwille, et al. 1985 studied many measures of workload while pilots were in a flight simulator, and prospective duration judgment was one of the best workload measures. This is reminiscent of what the attentional-gate model (AGM) proposed. Vercruyssen, et al. 1989 investigated physical workload and duration experience. Baldauf, et al. 2009 investigated time perception in a simulated car-driving task. Zakay, et al. 1999 reviewed how prospective duration estimates reflect workload in many situations.

  • Baldauf, D., E. Burgard, and M. Wittmann. 2009. Time perception as a workload measure in simulated car driving. Applied Ergonomics 40.5: 929–935.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.apergo.2009.01.004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Studied several measures in simulated driving and concluded that time production is a valid indicator of cognitive load. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Hancock, P. A., and J. L. Weaver. 2005. On time distortion under stress. Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science 6.2: 193–211.

    DOI: 10.1080/14639220512331325747Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explored the phenomenon of temporal distortion, which is expected to occur in life-threatening situations. See also articles by Eagleman. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Vercruyssen, M., P. A. Hancock, and T. Mihaly. 1989. Time estimation performance before, during, and following physical activity. Journal of Human Ergology 18.2: 169–179.

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    Explored the influence of differing levels of physical load on the perceived passage of time.

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  • Wierwille, W. W., and S. A. Connor. 1983. Evaluation of 20 workload measures using a psychomotor task in a moving-base aircraft simulator. Human Factors 25.1: 1–16.

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    Compared the sensitivity of twenty pilot workload assessment techniques, including duration estimation. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Wierwille, W. W., M. Rahimi, and J. G. Casali. 1985. Evaluation of 16 measures of mental workload using a simulated flight task emphasizing mediational activity. Human Factors 27.5: 489–502.

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    Using forty-eight pilots in a flight simulator, this article reported evidence on workload measures, including duration judgments. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Zakay, D., R. A. Block, and Y. Tsal. 1999. Prospective duration estimation and performance. Paper delivered at the Seventeenth International Symposium on Attention and Performance, Haifa, Israel, 7–12 July 1996. In Cognitive regulation of performance: Interaction of theory and application. Edited by D. Gopher and A. Koriat, 557–580. Attention and Performance 17. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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    This article is a review of evidence that prospective duration judgments reflect workload demands. Focused on everyday situations, such as waiting in a computer environment and waiting in line. Also described the benefits and shortcomings of prospective duration estimation in everyday situations.

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LAST MODIFIED: 01/13/2014

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199828340-0123

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