Subjective Time in Near and Far Representational Space

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Abstract

Objective

We set out to measure healthy subjects' estimates of temporal duration during the imagination of left and right sides of an object located in either near or far representational space.

Background

Duration estimates during the observation of small-scale scenes are shorter than those during the observation of the same scenes presented in a larger scale. It is not known whether a similar space-time relationship also exists for objects merely imagined and whether subjective time varies with a forced focus on either the left or the right side of a mental image.

Methods

Eyes closed, 40 healthy, right-handed subjects (20 women) had to imagine a standard Swiss railway clock either at a distance of 30 cm or 6 m. They were required to focus on the imagined movement of the second hand and provide estimates of elapsed durations of 15 and 30 seconds. Separate estimates for the left and right side of the clockface were obtained. The magnitude of implicit line bisection error was assessed in a separate task.

Results

Irrespective of side of the clockface, duration estimates were shorter for the clockface imagined in far space than for the one imagined immediately in front of the inner eye. For men, but not women, duration judgments (left relative to right side of the clockface) correlated with relative lengths of left and right line segments in the bisection task.

Conclusions

Subjective time seems to run faster during the inspection of a small-size compared with a larger-size mental image. This finding underlines the equivalence of the laws that guide both exploration and representation of space. Together with the observed correlation between spatial and temporal measures of lateral asymmetries, the result also illustrates the conceptual similarities in the processing of space and time. The normative data presented here may be useful for clinical applications of the paradigm in patients with hemispatial neglect or a distorted perception of time.

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