The effect of attention and working memory on the estimation of elapsed time

Sci Rep. 2018 Apr 27;8(1):6690. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-25119-y.


Psychological models of time perception involve attention and memory: while attention typically regulates the flow of events, memory maintains timed events or intervals. The precise, and possibly distinct, roles of attention and memory in time perception remain debated. In this behavioral study, we tested 48 participants in a prospective duration estimation task while they fully attended to time or performed a working memory (WM) task. We report that paying attention to time lengthened perceived duration in the range of seconds to minutes, whereas diverting attention away from time shortened perceived duration. The overestimation due to attending to time did not scale with durations. To the contrary, increasing WM load systematically decreased subjective duration and this effect scaled with durations. Herein, we discuss the dissociation between attention and WM in timing and scalar variability from the perspective of Bayesian models of time estimations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult