Variable foreperiods and temporal discrimination

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Temporal judgements are often accounted for by a single-clock hypothesis. The output of such a clock is reported to depend on the allocation of attention. In the present series of experiments, the influence of attention on temporal information processing is investigated by systematic variations of the period preceding brief empty intervals to be judged. Two indicators of timing performance, temporal sensitivity, reflecting discrimination performance, and perceived duration served as dependent variables. Foreperiods ranged from 0.3 to 0.6 s in Experiments 1 to 4. When the foreperiod varied randomly from trial to trial, perceived duration was longer with increasing length of foreperiod (Experiments 1 and 3 with brief auditory markers and Experiment 4 with brief visual markers), an effect that disappeared with no trial-to-trial variations (Experiment 2). Longer foreperiods also enhanced performance on temporal discrimination of auditory empty intervals with a base duration of 100 ms (Experiments 1 and 5), whereas discrimination performance was unaffected for auditory intervals with a base duration of 500 ms (Experiment 3). The variable-foreperiod effect on perceived duration also held when foreperiods ranged from 0.6 to 1.5 s (Experiments 5–7). Findings suggest that foreperiods appear to effectively modulate attention mechanisms necessary for temporal information processing. However, alternative explanations such as assimilation or compatibility effects cannot be totally discarded.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Université Laval, Québec, Canada 2: University of Goettingen, Germany

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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