Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Remembered Duration: Working Memory and the Reproduction of Intervals

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Remembered Duration: Working Memory and the Reproduction of Intervals

Article excerpt

On the basis of attention allocation models of time estimation, the role of working memory in prospective duration reproduction is explored. In four experiments, adult participants performed a counting task (duration, 400 sec) that allowed coordinative and sequential demands on working memory to be varied. After completing the counting task, the participants reproduced the time that they had worked on this task. It emerged that (1) increased coordinative demands on working memory (but not increased sequential demands) reduced the accuracy of prospective duration reproduction (Experiments 1 and 2), (2) presenting context information during the reproduction phase enhanced the accuracy of the reproduced duration (Experiment 3), and (3) individual differences in coordinative working memory capacity affected duration reproduction in the same direction as the experimental manipulation of coordinative task demands (Experiment 4). The results suggest that attention allocation models of time estimation may benefit from taking a more differentiated view of the types of attentional demands that affect temporal cognition.

The ability to process temporal information is central to the effective organization of behavior: "Time is the conscious experiential product of the processes that allow the (human) organism to adaptively organize itself, so that its behavior remains tuned to the sequential... relations in its environment" (Michon, 1985, p. 20). Remembering the duration of past episodes is one of the main processes in this adaptation procedure. Information regarding the duration of intervals is essential for representing immediate processes of the environment (Zakay & Block, 1997) and thus helps individuals to adapt their behavior to environmental processes. However, humans are extremely susceptible to temporal illusions, especially with regard to intervals lasting minutes or hours (see, e.g., Fraisse, 1984), and numerous experiments have been conducted to explore distortions in duration judgments (see Roeckelein, 2000, for a review).

The most successful hypothesis about the cognitive factors that influence duration judgments has focused on the allocation of attentional resources. As early as the 1920s (Hülser, 1924), experimental evidence showed that directing attention to the "course of time" increased the subjective duration of temporal intervals, whereas distracting attention from time decreased subjective duration (see also Woodrow, 1933). In the 1970s, these phenomena were reanalyzed in terms of models in which a duality for the rocessing of temporal and nontemporal information has been assumed. The assumption was that, as the cognitive capacity allocated to the processing of nontemporal information is increased, the remembered duration will either decrease or become unreliable (e.g., Hicks, Miller, Gaes, &Bierman, 1977; Thomas & Weaver, 1975;Zakay, 1989). Evidence confirming this hypothesis has been reported, for example, by Alien (1980), Brown and West (1990), Hawkes and Sherman (1972), Hicks and Brandige (1974), Hicks et al. (1977), Hicks, Miller, and Kinsbourne (1976), Kowal (1981), and Zakay (1989), using stimulus intervals ranging from 0.5 to 68 sec. Brown (1997) has provided a thorough review of studies showing that a variety of nontemporal tasks interfere with such temporal tasks as time estimation, time reproduction, and time production. It should be noted, however, that attention allocation theories are limited to explaining performance on prospective timing tasks-that is, tasks in which participants are informed in advance that they will have to estimate the duration of a specific interval (e.g., Zakay, 1993). When participants are given this instruction after the stimulus interval has already elapsed, time estimation is assumed to require different cognitive processes (e.g., Block, 1990).

A more recent version of the attention allocation explanation is the attentional gate model proposed by Zakay and Block (1997; Block & Zakay, 1996). …

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