Tracking Visual Events in Time in the Absence of Time Perception: Implicit Processing at the ms Level

PLoS One. 2015 Jun 1;10(6):e0127106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0127106. eCollection 2015.


Previous studies have suggested that even if subjects deem two visual stimuli less than 20 ms apart to be simultaneous, implicitly they are nonetheless distinguished in time. It is unclear, however, how information is encoded within this short timescale. We used a priming paradigm to demonstrate how successive visual stimuli are processed over time intervals of less than 20 ms. The primers were two empty square frames displayed either simultaneously or with a 17 ms asynchrony. The primers were followed by the target information after a delay of 25 ms to 100 ms. The two square frames were filled in one after another with a delay of 100 ms between them, and subjects had to decide on the location of the first of the frames to be filled in. In a second version of the paradigm, only one square frame was filled in, and subjects had to decide where it was positioned. The influence of the primers is revealed through faster response times depending on the location of the first and second primers. Experiment 1 replicates earlier results, with a bias towards the side of the second primer, but only when there is a delay of 75 to 100 ms between primers and targets. The following experiments suggest this effect to be relatively independent of the task context, except for a slight effect on the time course of the biases. For the temporal order judgment task, identical results were observed when subjects have to answer to the side of the second rather than the first target, showing the effect to be independent of the hand response, and suggesting it might be related to a displacement of attention. All in all the results suggest the flow of events is followed more efficiently than suggested by explicit asynchrony judgment studies. We discuss the possible impact of these results on our understanding of the sense of time continuity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The research reviewed in this manuscript was supported by the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM), the Centre Hospitalier Régional Universitaire of Strasbourg (API-HUSn°3494), the Medicine Faculty of Strasbourg and the French National Research Agency (ANR FeellnControl n°ANR-10-BLAN-1903).