Expectation, information processing, and subjective duration

A paper recently published in Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics tested an implementation of the temporal oddball illusion (according to which standard stimuli seem shorter than oddball stimuli of the same duration) in a novel context using a novel methodology (musical imagery reproduction). This paper is, to the authors knowledge, the first to test whether the temporal oddball illusion translates from single events to multiple-event sequences, and whether information processing influences this potential translation.

In two experiments, musical chord sequences of varying durations (3.5 s; 7 s; 11.9 s) did or did not contain auditory oddballs (sliding tones), and people listened to the sequences while engaged in either direct temporal or indirect temporal processing. We manipulated information processing by independently varying the task (Experiment 1), the sequence event structure (Experiments 1 and 2), and the sequence familiarity (Experiment 2). The task was either to complete a verbal estimation (“What is the duration of this excerpt?”) or a musical imagery reproduction (“Imagine that excerpt playing back in your head. Re-play it through your head the exact way you heard it play through the headphones, from start to finish. Press the green button to mark the start of the excerpt you’re imagining. Press the red button to mark the finish of the excerpt you’re imagining.”). The sequence event structure was either repeated (the mere repetition of a single chord), coherent (chords progressions that follow the rules of Western tonal harmony), or incoherent (the coherent sequences scrambled such that the chords progressions violated the rules of Western tonal harmony). The sequence familiarity was either familiar (presented during an exposure phase) or unfamiliar (not presented during the exposure phase). Completing a verbal estimation task, and listening to coherent, repeated, and familiar sequences induces direct temporal processing. Completing a musical imagery reproduction task, and listening to incoherent and unfamiliar sequences induces indirect temporal processing.

The main findings were that the sequences containing oddballs seemed shorter and longer than those not containing oddballs when people were engaged in direct and indirect temporal processing, respectively. These results support the dual-process contingency model of short interval time estimation, and can be explained using the notion of an information processing continuum (Zakay, 1993): as attention shifted from counting seconds (direct temporal processing) to listening to music (indirect temporal processing), for example, the effect of oddballs shifted from decreasing the number of seconds counted to increasing the amount of music remembered.


Zakay, D. (1993). Relative and absolute duration judgments under prospective and retrospective paradigms. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 54, 656–664. https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03211789

Source paper:

Simchy-Gross, R., & Margulis, E. H. (2017). Expectation, information processing, and subjective duration. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 1-17. https://doi.org/10.3758/s13414-017-1432-4


Reprints are available at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rhimmon_Simchy-Gross

– Rhimmon Simchy-Gross

PhD student

Music Cognition Lab @ University of Arkansas