Precisely estimating event timing is essential for survival, yet temporal distortions are ubiquitous in our daily sensory experience. Here, we tested whether the relative position, duration, and distance in time of two sequentially-organized events—standard S, with constant duration, and comparison C, with duration varying trial-by-trial—are causal factors in generating temporal distortions. We found that temporal distortions emerge when the first event is shorter than the second event. Importantly, a significant interaction suggests that a longer inter-stimulus interval (ISI) helps to counteract such serial distortion effect only when the constant S is in the first position, but not if the unpredictable C is in the first position. These results imply the existence of a perceptual bias in perceiving ordered event durations, mechanistically contributing to distortion in time perception. We simulated our behavioral results with a Bayesian model and replicated the finding that participants disproportionately expand first-position dynamic (unpredictable) short events. Our results clarify the mechanisms generating time distortions by identifying a hitherto unknown duration-dependent encoding inefficiency in human serial temporal perception, something akin to a strong prior that can be overridden for highly predictable sensory events but unfolds for unpredictable ones.
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