The effect of pain and the anticipation of pain on temporal perception: A role for attention and arousal

Cogn Emot. 2015;29(5):910-22. doi: 10.1080/02699931.2014.954529. Epub 2014 Sep 9.


The overestimation of the duration of fear-inducing stimuli relative to neutral stimuli is a robust finding within the temporal perception literature. Whilst this effect is consistently reported with auditory and visual stimuli, there has been little examination of whether it can be replicated using painful stimulation. The aim of the current study was, therefore, to explore how pain and the anticipation of pain affected perceived duration of time. A modified verbal estimation paradigm was developed in which participants estimated the duration of shapes previously conditioned to be associated with pain, compared to those not associated with pain. Duration estimates were significantly longer on trials in which pain was received or anticipated than on control trials. Slope and intercept analysis revealed that the anticipation of pain resulted in steeper slopes and greater intercept values than for control trials. The results suggest that increased arousal and attention, when anticipating and experiencing pain, result in longer perceived durations. The results are discussed in relation to internal clock theory and neurocognitive models of time perception.

Keywords: Arousal; Attention; Emotion; Pain; Time perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anticipation, Psychological*
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Fear
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult