The “wrinkles” in the temporal experience are linked to the heartbeat

Summary: Momentary perceptions of time can stretch or shrink with each heartbeat and are not continuous as previously thought.

Source: Cornell University

How long is the present? The answer, Cornell researchers suggest in a new study, depends on your heart.

They discovered that our momentary perception of time is not continuous but can stretch or shrink with each heartbeat.

According to Adam K. Anderson, professor in the Department of Psychology and the College of Human Ecology (CHE).

“Time is a dimension of the universe and an essential basis of our experience of self,” Anderson said. “Our research shows that the moment-to-moment experience of time is synchronized and changes with the duration of a heartbeat.”

Saeedeh Sadeghi, a doctoral candidate in the field of psychology, is the lead author of “Wrinkles in Subsecond Time Perception are Synchronized to the Heart,” published March 2 in the journal Psychophysiology. Anderson is co-author with Eve De Rosa, Mibs Martin Follett Professor of Human Ecology (CHE) and Dean of Faculty at Cornell, and Marc Wittmann, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Borderlands in Psychology and Mental Health in Germany.

Time perception has typically been tested over longer intervals, when research has shown that thoughts and emotions can distort our sensory time, perhaps causing it to fly or crawl. Sadeghi and Anderson recently reported, for example, that overcrowding made a simulated train ride seem to pass more slowly.

Such findings, Anderson said, tend to reflect how we think about or estimate time, rather than our direct experience of it in the present moment.

To investigate this more direct experience, the researchers asked whether our perception of time is related to physiological rhythms, focusing on the natural variability of heart rates. The pacemaker “ticks” regularly on average, but each interval between beats is a tiny bit longer or shorter than the last, like a second hand clicking at different intervals.

This shows a heart and a brain on a scale
They discovered that our momentary perception of time is not continuous but can stretch or shrink with each heartbeat. Image is in public domain

The team exploited this variability in a new experiment. Forty-five study participants — aged 18 to 21, with no history of heart conditions — were monitored by electrocardiography, or ECG, measuring the electrical activity of the heart at millisecond resolution. The ECG was hooked up to a computer, allowing short tones lasting 80 to 180 milliseconds to be triggered by heartbeats. Study participants indicated whether the tones were longer or shorter compared to the others.

The results revealed what the researchers called “temporal wrinkles.” When the heartbeat preceding a tone was shorter, the tone was perceived as longer. When the previous heartbeat was longer, the duration of the sound seemed shorter.

“These observations consistently demonstrate that cardiac dynamics, even within a few heartbeats, are related to the temporal decision-making process,” the authors write.

The study also showed that the brain influences the heart. After hearing tones, study participants focused their attention on the sounds. This “orientation response” altered their heart rate, affecting their experience of time.

“Heartbeat is a rhythm that our brain uses to give us our sense of time passing,” Anderson said, “and it’s not linear, it’s constantly contracting and expanding.”

The researchers said the link between time perception and the heart suggests that our momentary perception of time is rooted in bioenergetics, helping the brain manage effort and resources based on changing bodily states, including frequency. cardiac.

Research shows, Anderson said, that in sub-second intervals too brief for conscious thoughts or feelings, the heart regulates our experience of the present.

“Even at these moment-to-moment intervals, our sense of time fluctuates,” he said. “A pure influence of the heart, from beat to beat, helps to create a sense of time.”

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About this time perception research news

Author: James Dean
Source: Cornell University
Contact: James Dean – Cornell University
Picture: Image is in public domain

Original research: Access closed.
“Ripples in sub-second time perception are synchronized with the heart” by Saeedeh Sadeghi et al. Psychophysiology


Wrinkles in less than a second are synchronized with the heart

The role of the heart in the experience of time has long been theorized, but empirical evidence is scarce. Here, we examined the interplay between fine-grained cardiac dynamics and the momentary experience of sub-second intervals.

Participants performed a temporal bisection task for short tones (80–188 ms) synchronized with the heart. We have developed a cardiac drift-diffusion model (cDDM) that incorporates contemporary dynamics of heart rate into the temporal decision model.

The results revealed the existence of temporal wrinkles – dilation or contraction at short intervals – in synchronism with cardiac dynamics. A lower pre-stimulus heart rate was associated with an initial bias in encoding stimulus duration at the millisecond level as longer, consistent with facilitation of sensory input.

At the same time, a higher pre-stimulus heart rate facilitated more consistent and faster temporal judgments through more efficient evidence accumulation. Additionally, a higher rate of post-stimulus cardiac deceleration, a bodily marker of attention, was associated with greater accumulation of sensory temporal evidence in the cDDM.

These results suggest a unique role of cardiac dynamics in the momentary experience of time. Our cDDM framework opens a new methodological avenue to study the role of the heart in time perception and perceptual judgment.

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