Temporal distortion in the perception of actions and events Academic Article uri icon


  • In everyday life, actions and sensory events occur in complex sequences, with events triggering actions that in turn give rise to additional events and so on. Earlier work has shown that a sensory event that is triggered by a voluntary action is perceived to have occurred earlier in time than an identical event that is not triggered by an action. In other words, events that are believed to be caused by our actions are drawn forward in time towards our actions. Similarly, when a sensory event triggers an action, that event is again drawn in time towards the action and is thus perceived to have occurred later than it really did. This alteration in time perception serves to bind together events and actions that are causally linked. It is not clear, however, whether or not the perceived timing of a sensory event embedded within a longer series of actions and sensory events is also temporally bound to the actions in that sequence. In the current study, we measured the temporal binding in sequences consisting of two simple dyads of event-action and action-event in a series of manual action tasks: an event-action-event triad (Experiment 1) and an action-event-action triad (Experiment 2). Auditory tones either triggered an action or were presented 250ms after an action was performed. To reduce the influence of sensory events other than the tone, such as a noise associated with pressing a key on a keyboard, we used an optical sensor to detect hand movements where no contact was made with a surface. In Experiment 1, there appeared to be no change in the perceived onset of an auditory tone when the onset of that tone followed a hand movement and then the tone triggered a second hand movement. It was as if the temporal binding between the action and the tone and then the tone and the subsequent action summed algebraically and cancelled each other out. In Experiment 2, both the perceived onset of an initial tone which triggered an action and the perceived onset of a second tone which was presented 250ms after the action were temporally bound to the action. Taken together, the present study suggests that the temporal binding between our actions and sensory events occur separately in each dyad within a longer sequence of actions and events.

publication date

  • 2017