Great expectations: temporal expectation modulates perceptual processing speed

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2012 Oct;38(5):1183-91. doi: 10.1037/a0026343. Epub 2012 Jan 16.


In a crowded dynamic world, temporal expectations guide our attention in time. Prior investigations have consistently demonstrated that temporal expectations speed motor behavior. We explore effects of temporal expectation on perceptual speed in three nonspeeded, cued recognition paradigms. Different hazard rate functions for the cue-stimulus foreperiod were used to manipulate temporal expectations. By computational modeling we estimated two distinct components of visual attention: the temporal threshold of conscious perception (t₀ ms) and the speed of subsequent encoding into visual short-term memory (v items/s). Notably, these components were measured independently of any motor involvement. The threshold t₀ was unaffected by temporal expectation, but perceptual processing speed v increased with increasing expectation. By employing constant hazard rates to keep expectation constant over time, we further confirmed that the increase in perceptual speed was independent of the cue-stimulus duration. Thus, our results strongly suggest temporal expectations optimize perceptual performance by speeding information processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult