Perceived duration increases with contrast, but only a little

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Recent adaptation studies provide evidence for early visual areas playing a role in duration perception. One explanation for the pronounced duration compression commonly found with adaptation is that it reflects adaptation-driven stimulus-specific reduction in neural activity in early visual areas. If this level of stimulus-associated neural activity does drive duration, then we would expect a strong effect of contrast on perceived duration as electrophysiological studies shows neural activity in early visual areas to be strongly related to contrast. We employed a spatially isotropic noise stimulus where the luminance of each noise element was independently sinusoidally modulated at 4 Hz. Participants matched the perceived duration of a high (0.9) or low (0.1) contrast stimulus to a previously presented standard stimulus (600ms, contrast = 0.3). To achieve perceptually equivalent durations, the low contrast stimulus had to be presented for longer than the high contrast stimulus. This occurred when we controlled for stimulus size and when we adjusted for individual differences in perceived temporal frequency. Further, we show that the effect cannot be explained by shifts in perceived onset and offset and is not explained by a simple contrast-driven response bias. The direction of our results is clearly consistent with the idea that level of neural activity drives duration. However, the magnitude of the effect (~10% duration difference over a 0.9 to 0.1 contrast reduction) is in marked contrast to the larger duration distortions that can be found with repetition suppression and the oddball effect; particularly when these may be associated with smaller differences in neural activity than that expected from our contrast difference. Taken together, these results indicate that level of stimulus-related neural activity in early visual areas is unlikely to provide a general mechanism for explaining differences in perceived duration.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1950
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2016

Structured keywords

  • Cognitive Science
  • Visual Perception


  • duration
  • time
  • contrast
  • Vision
  • Perception
  • Visual Perception
  • Psychophysics


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