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PLoS One. 2013 Oct 23;8(10):e76074. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0076074. eCollection 2013.

How long depends on how fast--perceived flicker dilates subjective duration.

Author information

1
Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Berlin, Germany ; Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany.

Abstract

How do humans perceive the passage of time and the duration of events without a dedicated sensory system for timing? Previous studies have demonstrated that when a stimulus changes over time, its duration is subjectively dilated, indicating that duration judgments are based on the number of changes within an interval. In this study, we tested predictions derived from three different accounts describing the relation between a changing stimulus and its subjective duration as either based on (1) the objective rate of changes of the stimulus, (2) the perceived saliency of the changes, or (3) the neural energy expended in processing the stimulus. We used visual stimuli flickering at different frequencies (4-166 Hz) to study how the number of changes affects subjective duration. To this end, we assessed the subjective duration of these stimuli and measured participants' behavioral flicker fusion threshold (the highest frequency perceived as flicker), as well as their threshold for a frequency-specific neural response to the flicker using EEG. We found that only consciously perceived flicker dilated perceived duration, such that a 2 s long stimulus flickering at 4 Hz was perceived as lasting as long as a 2.7 s steady stimulus. This effect was most pronounced at the slowest flicker frequencies, at which participants reported the most consistent flicker perception. Flicker frequencies higher than the flicker fusion threshold did not affect perceived duration at all, even if they evoked a significant frequency-specific neural response. In sum, our findings indicate that time perception in the peri-second range is driven by the subjective saliency of the stimulus' temporal features rather than the objective rate of stimulus changes or the neural response to the changes.

PMID:
24194829
PMCID:
PMC3806760
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0076074
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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