Psychologists discover a new perceptual illusion that provides insight into the nature of time perception

A new study provides evidence that our causal assumptions shape our perceptions of the temporal order in which we experience events occurring. The results, which were published in the journal Psychological Scienceshighlight the influence of causality on the perception of time.

“Originally, we were interested in backward causation and whether in certain circumstances people can perceive causes occurring after their effects, such as when they pray or hope for an outcome for something that has happened before,” said study author Christos Bechlivanidis, an associate. professor at University College London.

“After conducting a few experiments, we soon realized that the expectation of a temporal direction (that causes causes precede their effects) is so strong that even if we reverse the order, people insist that they have seen causes happen first.This led us to look at the nature of time perception and how it interacts with causation (which also carries temporal information).

In three experiments, which included 607 people in total, participants observed a domino effect collision involving three colored squares, which were labeled “A”, “B”, and “C”.

In the expected order of collisions, A collides with B, which then collides with C. However, in the version the participants saw, “A moves first, but as it makes contact with B , C starts moving and B starts moving only 150 ms later than that, in other words, C starts moving before B collides with it.

In the experiments, participants had to indicate the time at which B and C started to move. Despite repeatedly viewing the collisions, the researchers found that participants tended to report that B started moving before C, rather than the actual order of movements (A, C, B).

“We assume that we know, by direct perception, the order in which events occur around us. The order of events in the world is the order of our perceptions. The visual signal of the glass formwork follows the signal of the glass hitting the floor, and this is considered irrefutable proof that this is indeed how events happened,” Bechlivanidis told PsyPost.

“Our research points in the opposite direction, that it is causal perceptions or expectations that tell us in what order things are happening. If I believe that the impact is necessary for the glass to break, I perceive the formwork after the impact, even if due to a crazy coincidence, the events have followed one another in a different order. In other words, it seems that, especially in short timeframes, it is causality that tells us the time.

The researchers pointed out that there is still much to learn about how assumptions about causation influence our perceptions.

“There are two main avenues for further work, in light of the causal reorganization effect,” Bechlivanidis explained. “First, we need to investigate the perception of temporal order more generally. It could be that, as philosopher Rick Grush argues, when events happen quickly, we never perceive but always infer their order, based on our expectations and predictions.

“Equally intriguing is the evidence of effect for the study of causal perception, the idea that we perceive causes the same way we perceive color or depth,” he continued. “In the reordering effect, one of the main cues used in causal perception, temporal precedence, is violated, but the sequence of events still appears causal to participants. 60 years and suggests that causal perception, or perhaps coincidence detection, is perhaps much more pervasive and flexible than currently assumed.

The study, “Human vision reconstructs time to satisfy causal constraintswas written by Christos Bechlivanidis, Marc J. Buehner, Emma C. Tecwyn, David A. Lagnado, Christoph Hoerl and Teresa McCormack.

Irene B. Bowles