Attention, Social meaning and time perception

SUMMARY: Social meaning is known to influence subjective time. A study by NAOP members, Prof. N. Srinivasan, Dr. S. Tewari and Mr. M Makwana along with Prof. Hopkins., in the context of Magh Mela provided a direct evidence for the role of attention in mediating this effect.


Experience of everyday events does not entirely depend on the physical properties of those events but are also influenced by the meaning attributed to them. For example, a study published in Psychological Science by Srinivasan et al., (2014) showed that a 20 sec ambiguous noisy sound clip was perceived longer in duration when it was labeled to be recorded from a religious event (Mela) compared to when it was labeled to be recorded from the busy city street. Even though this study demonstrates the effect of attributing social meaning or context on the perceived duration, it does not explain the mechanism via which this effect is mediated. The current study published in Timing and Time Perception (2015), provides a direct evidence for the role of attention in mediating this effect.

Eighty four male Hindu pilgrims attending the Kumbh Mela, participated in this study. Half of them were told that the ambiguous sound clip was recorded from religious festival (Mela labeled condition) whereas other half were told that the sound was recorded from busy city streets (City labeled condition). In each of these conditions, half of the participants just listened the sound clip and reproduced its duration (single task condition) while the other half performed a pair cancellation task while listening the sound clip (dual task condition).

The temporal reproductions were longer in the Mela labeled condition compared to City labeled condition when they were performing a single task. But when attention was diverted with the additional secondary pair cancellation task, the effect of social meaning on reproduced duration vanished, suggesting that attention is necessary for mediating the effect of social meaning on duration perception. The finding that mere labeling of the stimulus impacts duration judgments in the single-task but not the dual-task conditions suggests that the effect of social meaning is indeed mediated through the deployment of attentional resources. 


Srinivasan, N., Tewari, S., Makwana, M., & Hopkins, N. P. (2015). Attention Mediates the Effect of Context-Relevant Social. Timing & Time Perception, 3(3-4), 189-200.

NAOP members featured in this research: Narayanan Srinivasan , Shruti Tewari, Mukesh Makwana