Perception of temporal duration is subjective and is influenced by factors such as attention and context. For example, unexpected or emotional events are often experienced as if time subjectively expands, suggesting that the amount of information processed in a unit of time can be increased. Time dilation effects have been measured with an oddball paradigm in which an infrequent stimulus is perceived to last longer than standard stimuli in the rest of the sequence. Likewise, time compression for the oddball occurs when the duration of the standard items is relatively brief. Here, we investigated whether the amount of information processing changes when time is perceived as distorted. On each trial, an oddball stimulus of varying numerosity (1-14 items) and duration was presented along with standard items that were either short (70 ms) or long (1050 ms). Observers were instructed to count the number of dots within the oddball stimulus and to judge its relative duration with respect to the standards on that trial. Consistent with previous results, oddballs were reliably perceived as temporally distorted: expanded for longer standard stimuli blocks and compressed for shorter standards. The occurrence of these distortions of time perception correlated with perceptual processing; i.e. enumeration accuracy increased when time was perceived as expanded and decreased with temporal compression. These results suggest that subjective time distortions are not epiphenomenal, but reflect real changes in sensory processing. Such short-term plasticity in information processing rate could be evolutionarily advantageous in optimizing perception and action during critical moments.
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