Perception, 41(8):883--900, 2012. Paper abstract bibtex 1 download
How do observers judge the passage of time at a short time-scale? Humans are not equipped with a dedicated sensory system for perceiving durations in the same way as they are equipped with systems for perceiving light and sound. Thus, subjective duration depends on the sensory and cognitive processes triggered by sensory input, eg visual or auditory stimuli. Previous studies have demonstrated that the dynamics of this sensory input (eg the rate of stimulus presentation) affect duration judgments. However, it is yet unclear whether automatic or attentive processing of such dynamics accounts for their effect on subjective duration. Automatic and attentive stimulus processing can be distinguished when stimuli are presented in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm. The second of two targets embedded in an RSVP stream often fails to attract participants' attention and escapes conscious detection, in spite of being automatically processed at a perceptual level. In the present study, we presented RSVP streams and combined a target detection task with a prospective duration judgment task. We demonstrate in three experiments that the number of subjectively perceived target stimuli (and not the number of objectively presented targets) determines subjective duration of the entire RSVP sequence. Target stimuli which escape attentional selection did not affect perceived duration. This finding indicates that attentive rather than automatic processing of stimulus dynamics leads to the subjective time dilation of dynamic stimuli.