Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

To Count or Not to Count: The Effect of Instructions on Expecting a Break in Timing

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

To Count or Not to Count: The Effect of Instructions on Expecting a Break in Timing

Article excerpt

Published online: 27 December 2012

(Q> Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2012

Abstract When a break is expected during a time interval production, longer intervals are produced as the break occurs later during the interval. This effect of break location was interpreted as a result of distraction related to break expectancy in previous studies. In the present study, the influence of target duration and of instructions about Chronometrie counting strategies on the break location effect was examined. Using a strategy such as Chronometrie counting enhances the reliability of temporal processing, typically in terms of reduced variability, and could influence how timing is affected by break expectancy, especially when relatively long target durations are used. In two experiments, results show that time productions lengthened with increasing value of break location at various target durations and that variability was greater in the no-counting than in the counting instruction condition. More important, the break location effect was stronger in the no-counting than in the counting instruction condition. We conclude that Chronometrie counting orients attention toward timing processes, making them less likely to be disrupted by concurrent nontemporal processes.

Keywords Temporal processing * Attention: divided attention and inattention * Grouping and segmentation

The perceived duration of a period of time varies depending on the orientation of our attention: Time seems longer if our attention is oriented to its passage and shorter when we are absorbed in some concurrent activity. This interference effect, one of the most consistent effects in the timing litera- ture (Brown, 1997, 2008b), has contributed significantly to establishing the assumption that attention plays a critical role in time estimation in humans. Numerous studies, using a dual-task paradigm, have confirmed the imperative role of attention in timing under prospective conditions, when par- ticipants know before the beginning of the task that a tem- poral judgment will be required. When participants are performing temporal and nontemporal tasks simultaneously (e.g., perceptual, mental arithmetic, motor tracking), the perceived duration shortens with increasing difficulty or duration of nontemporal processing (Brown, 1985, 1998, 2006, 2010; Champagne & Fortin, 2008; Field & Groeger, 2004; Fortin, Champagne, & Poirier, 2007; Fortin & Rousseau, 1998; Macar, 2002; Macar, Grondin, & Casini, 1994; Rammsayer & Ulrich, 2005; Thomas & Weaver, 1975; Zakay, Nitzan, & Glicksohn, 1983). Temporal under- estimation can be accounted for by an attention allocation model (for recent reviews, see Brown, 2008b, 2010). According to this interpretation, a given duration is estimat- ed through an accumulation of temporal information or temporal cues in a cognitive timer, and this process requires attention (e.g., Hicks, Miller, & Kinsboume, 1976; Lejeune, 1998; Meek, 1984; Zakay & Block, 1996). In a dual-task paradigm, attentional resources are shared between temporal and nontemporal processing, and thus, a smaller amount of resources is allocated to timing than in a single-task para- digm. This competition for resources is assumed to lead to disruption or interruption in the temporal accumulation pro- cess and, consequently, to shorter perceived durations.

In order to study the effect of an interruption indepen- dently from the effect of concurrent processing, Fortin and Massé (2000) modified the dual-task paradigm by replacing the nontemporal task with an empty break, a systematic interruption in time interval production. In this task, partic- ipants began a trial by pressing a key, which triggered a tone presentation, and ended the interval production with a sec- ond keystroke. In experimental trials, there was a silent break in tone presentation, dining which the participants were asked to interrupt timing. After the break, the tone presentation resumed, and the interval production was ter- minated when it was judged that the sum of pre- and post- break intervals corresponded to the target diuation. …

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