Human Vision Reconstructs Time to Satisfy Causal Constraints

Christos Bechlivanidis*, Marc J. Buehner, Emma C. Tecwyn, David A. Lagnado, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack

*Corresponding author for this work

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The goal of perception is to infer the most plausible source of sensory stimulation. Unisensory perception of temporal order, however, appears to require no inference, since the order of events can be uniquely determined from the order in which sensory signals arrive. Here we demonstrate a novel perceptual illusion that casts doubt on this intuition: in three studies (N=607) the experienced event timings are determined by causality in real-time. Adult observers viewed a simple three-item sequence ACB, which is typically remembered as ABC (Bechlivanidis & Lagnado, 2016), in line with principles of causality. When asked to indicate the time at which events B and C occurred, points of subjective simultaneity shifted so that the assumed cause B appeared earlier and the assumed effect C later, despite full attention and repeated viewings. This first demonstration of causality reversing perceived temporal order cannot be explained by post-perceptual distortion, lapsed attention, or saccades.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)224-235
Number of pages13
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number2
Early online date04 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


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