In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Event Perception

  • Introduction
  • Definitions and Scope
  • Early Approaches to Studying Event Perception
  • Related Fields and Topics

Psychology Event Perception
Lauren Richmond, Jeffrey Zacks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0215


Events are part and parcel of everyday life. Research on event perception has roots in social perception and in the perception of causality. Much of the work on event perception is also directly related to early work describing the mental construction of situation models—how objects and characters relate to one another—from narrative text. Event perception research has tended to focus on how individuals process dynamic visual events in the moment, although text and auditory descriptions of events have also been used as stimuli. This field has helped us to begin to answer important questions such as “How do people remember things from their day-to-day lives?” “Why are some people better at remembering day-to-day events than others?” and “When one’s expectations about how an activity should proceed are violated, what cognitive and neural mechanisms are responsible for integrating this unexpected information into the memory trace for that event?”

Definitions and Scope

In psychological terms, Zacks and Tversky 2001 defines events as a segment of time in a given location that an observer perceives as having a beginning and an end. This definition differs from philosophical definitions, as represented in Casati and Varzi 1996. Events can last from a few seconds to tens of minutes. For example, studying for an exam at the library or attending a meeting would both constitute events. Importantly, this conceptualization of events excludes activities that are discontinuous in time; for example, washing dishes and placing in the drying rack, and then returning some time later after the dishes have air dried to put the dishes away would constitute two separate, though conceptually linked, events rather than a single “cleaning dishes” event. Although the topics of autobiographical memory and episodic future thought are related to event cognition, this piece does not cover these topics in depth. Instead, we direct readers to section Related Fields and Topics at the end of this bibliography for an overview of related work outside of the scope of this piece. Radvansky and Zacks 2014 offers an overview of research and historical underpinnings of the field of event cognition, including event perception.

  • Casati, R., and A. C. Varzi. 1996. Events. Aldershot, UK: Dartmouth.

    This collection of papers represents well the philosophical literature on events as of the early 1990s.

  • Radvansky, G. A., and J. M. Zacks. 2014. Event cognition. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199898138.001.0001

    This book covers event perception as well as other relevant research on event cognition more generally. See also Event Segmentation Theory.

  • Zacks, J. M., and B. Tversky. 2001. Event structure in perception and conception. Psychological Bulletin 127.1: 3–21.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.127.1.3

    This article provides the definition of events that has been used to guide a wealth of future research, as well as investigating how individuals encode everyday events.

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