Age-related changes in time perception: The impact of naturalistic environments and retrospective judgements on timing performance

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2021 Nov;74(11):2002-2012. doi: 10.1177/17470218211023362. Epub 2021 Jun 5.


Reduced timing abilities have been reported in older adults and are associated with pathological cognitive decline. However, time perception experiments often lack ecological validity. Especially the reduced complexity of experimental stimuli and the participants' awareness of the time-related nature of the task can influence lab-assessed timing performance and thereby conceal age-related differences. An approximation of more naturalistic paradigms can provide important information about age-related changes in timing abilities. To determine the impact of higher ecological validity on timing experiments, we implemented a paradigm that allowed us to test (1) the effect of embedding the to-be-timed stimuli within a naturalistic visual scene and (2) the effect of retrospective time judgements, which are more common in real life than prospective judgements. The results show that compared with out-of-context stimuli, younger adults benefit from a naturalistic embedding of stimuli (reflected in higher precision and less errors), whereas the performance of older adults is reduced when confronted with naturalistic stimuli. Differences between retrospective and prospective time judgements were not modulated by age. We conclude that, potentially driven by difficulties in suppressing temporally irrelevant environmental information, the contextual embedding of naturalistic stimuli can affect the degree to which age influences the performance in time perception tasks.

Keywords: Time perception; aging; ecological validity; prospective; retrospective.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging
  • Environment
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Perception*