Emotional distortions to time are consistently reported in laboratory studies; however, their underlying causes remain unclear. One suggestion is that emotion-induced changes in attentional processes may contribute to emotional distortions to time. The current study tested this possibility by examining the relationship between eye movement and perceptions of the duration of emotional events. Participants completed a verbal estimation task in which they estimated the duration of positively, negatively and neutrally valenced images from the International Affective Picture System images. Time to first fixation and dwell time were recorded throughout. The results showed no significant relationships between measures of eye movement and measures of emotional distortion to time, despite the emotion manipulation successfully influencing the time before the participants first fixated on the to-be-timed stimulus. This suggests that for suprasecond intervals emotion-induced changes in overt attention processing do not contribute towards emotional distortions to time.
Cognitive models of time perception propose that perceived duration is influenced by how quickly attention is orientated to the to-be-timed event and how consistently attention is sustained on the to-be-timed event throughout its presentation. Insufficient attention to time is therefore associated with shorter more variable representations of duration. However, these models do not specify whether covert or overt attentional systems are primarily responsible for paying attention during timing. The current study sought to establish the role of overt attention allocation during timing by examining the relationship between eye movements and perceived duration. Participants completed a modified spatial cueing task in which they estimated the duration of short (1400 ms) and long (2100 ms) validly and invalidly cued targets. Time to first fixation and dwell time were recorded throughout. The results showed no significant relationship between overt sustained attention and mean duration estimates. Reductions in overt sustained attention were however associated with increases in estimate variability for the long target duration. Overt attention orientation latency was predictive of the difference in the perceived duration of validly and invalidly cued short targets but not long ones. The results suggest that overt attention allocation may have limited impact on perceived duration.
Data relevant to the ‘filled-duration illusion’, the claim that filled intervals appear to last longer than unfilled ones of the same real duration, are reviewed. A distinction is made between divided-time studies (where an empty interval has one or more than one brief dividing stimulus inside it) and filled-duration studies (where the filled intervals are filled with some continuous event). Divided durations appear to last longer than empty ones, and the effect grows with the number of dividers, although it may be restricted to short durations. The best current explanation appears to involve the weighted summation of the different subintervals of which the total duration is composed. When intervals with simple fillers are contrasted with empty ones, they are usually judged as longer, and the effect may grow as the intervals lengthen, at least over short duration ranges. When complex fillers are used, fillers usually have no effect on perceived duration or shorten it. A pacemaker-counter approach can account for some simple filler effects, and division of attention for complex filler effects. Although there are some exceptions, ‘filled-interval illusions’ of all these types are normally found, but some problems, such as questions about the relative perceived variability of filled and unfilled intervals, or stimulus order effects, merit further research.