Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Prospective and retrospective time-keeping

As my mental/interval time-keeping knowledge development curve continues it's slow growth, it has become clear that one needs to become cognizant of the contemporary terminology in the psychology of time perception. One frequent distinction I run across when skimming research articles is the difference between retrospective and prospective time-keeping.

According to Wearden (2005):

  • A distinction central to modern time Psychology is that between prospective and retrospective timing, although the distinction was introduced only fairly recently in the long history of time perception by Hicks, Miller, and Kinsbourne (1976). Prospective timing involves time judgments made when experimental participants are alerted in advance that duration is an important feature of the procedure. Most common laboratory tasks are of this type (e.g. “hold down this button for one second,” “I’m going to present two tones and I want you to tell me which lasted longer”). In contrast, retrospective timing involves a time judgment made when the participant is unaware that a question about time is going to be asked (e.g. “how long is it since you started reading this paragraph?”). Contemporary time researchers are (virtually) unanimous that confusing these two is fatal to any proper progress (although they were routinely mixed up until recently, see the work reviewed in Fraisse (1964) for example), and that they are explained by different psychological mechanisms.
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