Optimal time discrimination

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2015;68(2):381-401. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2014.944921. Epub 2014 Sep 15.


In the temporal bisection task, participants categorize experienced stimulus durations as short or long based on their similarity to previously acquired reference durations. Reward maximization in this task requires integrating endogenous timing uncertainty as well as exogenous probabilities of the reference durations into temporal judgements. We tested human participants on the temporal bisection task with different short and long reference duration probabilities (exogenous probability) in two separate test sessions. Incorrect categorizations were not penalized in Experiment 1 but were penalized in Experiment 2, leading to different levels of stringency in the reward functions that participants tried to maximize. We evaluated the judgements within the framework of optimality. Our participants adapted their choice behaviour in a nearly optimal fashion and earned nearly the maximum possible expected gain they could attain given their level of endogenous timing uncertainty and exogenous probabilities in both experiments. These results point to the optimality of human temporal risk assessment in the temporal bisection task. The long categorization response times (RTs) were overall faster than short categorization RTs, and short but not long categorization RTs were modulated by reference duration probability manipulations. These observations suggested an asymmetry between short and long categorizations in the temporal bisection task.

Keywords: Decision-making; Interval timing; Optimality; Response times; Temporal bisection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Probability
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Spatial Memory / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult