Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 October 2022
The ability to perceive the duration of events and distinguish them from other shorter or longer events is a fundamental part of consciousness and the way in which we understand and interact with the world. Despite this, within psychology itself (and even within the study of the senses and perception), the domain of time perception is not widely known about. There are several likely reasons for this: firstly, up until the 1980s, the field was heavily based on animal work, with little or no applied human models or data, apart from some very early experiments in the nineteenth century. Secondly the field is often confused with other types of timing such as circadian timing (regulation of the body's sleep-wake cycle) or reaction time (how quickly one can react to a presented stimulus). Thirdly, although we talk of people having a sense of time, it is not strictly a sense, as we possess no sensory organ for time; unlike the cochlea for hearing, or the retina for vision.
The aim of this chapter is to give the reader who has no prior knowledge of the field of time perception an overview of the important facts, models, distinctions between different types of timing, and the factors that affect them. This chapter does not delve too deeply into the specific implications of these facets to our specific perception of music, as such an undertaking is provided by Phillips in Chapter 1 (this volume), although that is not to say that no reference to music will be made.
I will start by talking about the perception of duration and the models we use to explore it and the factors that can affect or distort it. I will then move on to talk about another type of timing phenomenon termed ‘passage of time judgements’ which are concerned not with the perception of how long an event lasted, but how quickly time seemed to pass while engaged in a particular activity.
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