The Subjective Present and Its Modulation in Clinical Contexts

In: Timing & Time Perception
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  • 1 University Hospital of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Bern, Laupenstrasse 49, 3010 Bern, Switzerland

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Time is a basic dimension in psychology, underlying behavior and experience. Timing and time perception constitute implicit processes that are often inaccessible to the individual person. Research in this field has shown that timing is involved in many areas of clinical significance. In the projects presented here, we combine timing with seemingly different fields of research, such as psychopathology, perceptual grouping, and embodied cognition. Focusing on the time scale of the subjective present, we report findings from three different clinical studies: (1) We studied perceived causality in schizophrenia patients, finding that perceptual grouping (‘binding’, ‘Gestalt formation’), which leads to visual causality perceptions, did not distinguish between patients and healthy controls. Patients however did integrate context (provided by the temporal distribution of auditory context stimuli) less into perceptions, in significant contrast to controls. This is consistent with reports of higher inaccuracy in schizophrenia patients’ temporal processing. (2) In a project on auditory Gestalt perception we investigated auditory perceptual grouping in schizophrenia patients. The mean dwell time was positively related to how much patients were prone to auditory hallucinations. Dwell times of auditory Gestalts may be regarded as operationalizations of the subjective present; findings thus suggested that patients with hallucinations had a shorter present. (3) The movement correlations of interacting individuals were used to study the non-verbal synchrony between therapist and patient in psychotherapy sessions. We operationalized the duration of an embodied ‘social present’ by the statistical significance of such associations, finding a window of roughly 5.7 seconds in conversing dyads.

We discuss that temporal scales of nowness may be modifiable, e.g., by mindfulness. This yields promising goals for future research on timing in the clinical context: psychotherapeutic techniques may alter binding processes, hence the subjective present of individuals, and may affect the social present in therapeutic interactions.

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