The Influence of Perceived Causation on Judgments of Time: An Integrative Review and Implications for Decision-Making.

David Faro, Ann L. McGill and Reid Hastie; “The Influence of Perceived Causation on Judgments of Time: An Integrative Review and Implications for Decision-Making.” Frontiers in Psychology, 2013, 4.

Recent research has shown that the perception of causality affects the judgment of elapsed time: an interval between an action and a subsequent event seems to be shorter when people believe that action has caused the event. This article reviews past work on the phenomenon and integrates the findings from the different settings in which it has been observed. The effect is found for actions people have personally taken, as well as for those they have simply read or heard about. It occurs for very short intervals (e.g., milliseconds) as well as longer periods (e.g., months or years). Beliefs and expectations about different types of causal forces and their trajectories over time can affect the degree of time compression in some settings. But the tendency toward compression of time is the default and dominant response: It persists when people think of generic causal relations and is enhanced when people opt for the quickest interpretation of causal relations. This robust influence of causality on time judgment appears to be linked to the basic tendency to rely on temporal proximity in processing causal relations and to people’s early experience with the physical-mechanical world. Past work has focused primarily on the implications of time compression for the sense of agency, but this phenomenon has implications also for decisions that depend on time judgment. The compression of subjective time elapsed between actions and outcomes makes people more optimistically plan the timing of a focal action in the future, experience its effect earlier in the future, and be less likely to switch to an alternative course of action. The tendency toward compression can thus endow an action with a sort of privileged status or advantage.