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Psychol Sci. 2009 Oct;20(10):1221-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02435.x. Epub 2009 Sep 2.

Causal binding of actions to their effects.

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School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff CF10 3AT, United Kingdom.


According to widely held views in cognitive science harking back to David Hume, causality cannot be perceived directly, but instead is inferred from patterns of sensory experience, and the quality of these inferences is determined by perceivable quantities such as contingency and contiguity. We report results that suggest a reversal of Hume's conjecture: People's sense of time is warped by the experience of causality. In a stimulus-anticipation task, participants' response behavior reflected a shortened experience of time in the case of target stimuli participants themselves had generated, relative to equidistant, equally predictable stimuli they had not caused. These findings suggest that causality in the mind leads to temporal binding of cause and effect, and extend and generalize beyond earlier claims of intentional binding between action and outcome.

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