Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Processing Resources in Timing and Sequencing Tasks

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Processing Resources in Timing and Sequencing Tasks

Article excerpt

Subjects performed timing and sequencing tasks under separate (single-task) and concurrent (dual-task) conditions in two experiments. The timing task required the subjects to generate a series of 5-sec temporal productions. The sequencing task in Experiment 1 involved verifying reasoning statements that described the ordering of a pair of letters. The task in Experiment 2 involved monitoring a familiar event sequence and detecting omissions in that sequence. Comparisons of single-task and dual-task conditions showed a pattern of bidirectional interference. In each experiment, the concurrent sequencing task caused temporal productions to become more variable and longer. The concurrent timing task interfered with sequencing by lengthening response times to the reasoning statements (Experiment 1) and by lengthening response times to sequence omissions and reducing sensitivity at detecting the omissions (Experiment 2). The results suggest that time perception and sequence perception are related cognitive processes that rely on a common set of attentional resources.

The focus of this article is on attentional resources that support timing functions. It is well established that attention is a critically important factor underlying our temporal experience. Attention to time alters the rate at which the subjective flow of time occurs; it influences our ability to gauge the length of intervals, and it affects our memory for the duration of events. The relation between time perception and attention has been the subject of an ever-increasing amount of research over the past 25 years, as investigators have adopted various methodologies to explore the effects of divided attention, resource allocation, expectancy, and automaticity on temporal judgments (e.g., Brown, 1998; Brown & Bennett, 2002; Fortin & Masse, 2000; Grondin & Macar, 1992; Macar, 2002; Macar, Grondin, & Casini, 1994; Zakay, 1998). This research has led to the development of various theoretical models in which attention plays a prominent role in timing processes (e.g., Block & Zakay, 1996; Thomas & Brown, 1974; Zakay & Block, 1996).

Much of the research on time and attention makes use of the dual-task paradigm. With this method, subjects perform a time judgment task concurrently with a nontemporal distractor task. The distractor task is typically a demanding perceptual or cognitive task, such as pursuit tracking, mental arithmetic, or item recall. The basic finding from this research is a phenomenon called the interference effect (see Brown, 1997, for a review). The interference effect refers to a disruption in timing performance. In comparison with single-task control conditions in which the only task is to judge time, time judgments under dual-task conditions typically show more error and variability. The error in time judgments is typically in the form of a shortening of perceived time, in which less time appears to have passed by, relative to a control condition. It is important to realize that this effect is manifested in different ways, depending on the tune judgment method. For verbal estimations or reproductions, time judgments become shorter. However, an opposite pattern occurs with temporal productions, in which subjects attempt to generate a specified interval. Because perceived time is shortened, subjects allow more time to pass before judging that the requisite interval has elapsed. Hence, either (1) shorter verbal estimations or reproductions or (2) longer temporal productions correspond to a shortening of perceived time (see Bindra & Waksberg, 1956; Brown, 1997;Doob, 1971, pp. 39-44; Fraisse, 1978, pp. 215-217; Zakay, 1993). Subjects' time judgments under distractor conditions may also show increased variability and absolute error. This unreliability may be due, in part, to such factors as shifts in attentiveness between the temporal and the nontemporal tasks, attempts to compensate and adjust for missing temporal information, increased reliance on guessing, and so forth (Brown, 1997, 1998, 2006). …

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