Humans are not passive observers of time. In a new paper in Scientific Reports, myself and Max Di Luca show how temporal expectations bias time perception. We use a combination of psychophysics and Bayesian modelling to really probe how the timing of events changes due to the expectations we build from the statistics all around us.
We show that if you present stimuli slightly earlier or later than expected, then the perceived timing of events is shifted closer to expectation. Interestingly, we also find a repulsive effect - stimuli presented perfectly on-time are actually (subjectively) reported as being earlier in time. We model this asymmetry in the results with an iterative-update Bayesian model with asymmetric probability distributions.
I have used the terms 'perceived timing' and 'subjective reports' interchangeably above - and with good reason. Further work by our lab will try to elucidate whether the changes we have observed are due to the perception of time changing at the encoding level – or at a decision stage. I imagine the truth will (as usual) be somewhere in between.
Please get in touch if you want to chat about this work.