Time Order as Psychological Bias

Psychol Sci. 2017 May;28(5):670-678. doi: 10.1177/0956797616689369. Epub 2017 Mar 24.


Incorrectly perceiving the chronology of events can fundamentally alter people's understanding of the causal structure of the world. For example, when astronomers used the "eye and ear" method to locate stars, they showed systematic interindividual errors. In the current study, we showed that temporal-order perception may be considered a psychological bias that attention can modulate but not fully eradicate. According to Titchener's law of prior entry, attention prioritizes the perception of an event and thus can help compensate for possible interindividual differences in the perceived timing of an event by normalizing perception in time. In a longitudinal study, we tested the stability of participants' temporal-order perception across and within sensory modalities, together with the magnitude of the participants' prior-entry effect. All measurements showed the persistence of stable interindividual variability. Crucially, the magnitude of the prior-entry effect was insufficient to compensate for interindividual variability: Conscious time order was systematically subjective, and therefore traceable on an individual basis.

Keywords: attention; interindividual variability; multisensory; open data; temporal order; time consciousness.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Bias*
  • Consciousness / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology