In everyday life we perceive events as having durations. Recent research suggests that the labeling of a stimulus influences the experience of its duration. Plausibly, the social meaning attributed to a stimulus impacts upon the amount of attention allocated to it, with greater attention resulting in better encoding and longer reproduction times. However, direct evidence for the role of attention in this effect of social meaning on duration reproduction is lacking. The present study addresses this issue directly. Eighty-four male Hindu pilgrims attending the Kumbh Mela in India listened to an ambiguous sound clip and reproduced its duration in a prospective timing task. The context-relevant social meaning of this sound clip was manipulated through attributing the sound to either the religious festival or busy city streets. Attentional load was manipulated by asking half the participants to perform a concurrent task. Reproduced durations were longer in the Mela compared to the City condition but only when participants completed a single task. The finding that mere labeling of the stimulus impacts duration judgments in a prospective paradigm in the single-task but not the dual-task conditions suggests that the effect of social meaning is indeed mediated through the deployment of attentional resources.
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