Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A sense of control, even if illusory, eliminates emotion-driven distortions of time

Date:
October 24, 2012
Source:
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Summary:
We humans have a fairly erratic sense of time. We tend to misjudge the duration of events, particularly when they are emotional in nature. Disturbingly negative experiences, for example, seem to last much longer than they actually do. And highly positive experiences seem to pass more quickly than negative ones. Now researchers say they have found a way to lessen these emotion-driven time distortions.

We humans have a fairly erratic sense of time. We tend to misjudge the duration of events, particularly when they are emotional in nature. Disturbingly negative experiences, for example, seem to last much longer than they actually do. And highly positive experiences seem to pass more quickly than negative ones.

Related Articles


Researchers say they have found a way to lessen these emotion-driven time distortions. Having a sense of control over events reduces the influence of emotions on time perception, the researchers report. This is true even for highly reactive emotional individuals and even if one's sense of control is an illusion.

The researchers describe their findings in a paper in Frontiers in Psychology.

Previous studies have found that highly arousing emotional experiences lead to the time distortions described above. Most people report that highly arousing positive images (erotic pictures, for example), viewed briefly on a computer monitor, flash by more quickly than disturbingly negative ones (of a dismembered body, for instance), even when the images are viewed for the same length of time. In contrast, low arousing positive or negative images (of a flower or mop, for example) tend to have the opposite effect: Most people report that mildly positive images seem to last longer than mildly negative ones do.

"We imagine that we're perfect at judging time, but we're not," said University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher Simona Buetti, who conducted the study with psychology professor Alejandro Lleras. "If you see a disgusting image, like a photo of a mutilated body, you will perceive this image lasting longer than if you see a picture of people on a roller coaster, or an erotic image. The major contribution of this study is to show that when you give participants a feeling of control, even if it's not perfect and even if it's totally illusory in an experiment, then you can make all these time distortions vanish."

Previous studies also exposed participants to positive and negative images to determine their effect on cognition, Lleras said.

"But in these previous studies, participants never had a sense of control over the experimental events. Images were just presented and participants simply reacted to them as they appeared," he said. "What is novel in our study is that participants are for the first time being given a sense that they can control the emotional events that they are witnessing in the lab."

In a series of experiments, the researchers asked participants to press keys on a keyboard to try to increase the frequency with which positive (or, in one experiment, negative) images appeared on a computer monitor. In reality, the participants had no control over the images; the researchers manipulated the ratio of positive to negative images to give them the impression that they were controlling -- or failing to control -- the emotional content of the images.

The researchers also tested a subset of participants who had a strong aversion to spiders. Buetti and Lleras reasoned that if control could alter the way people experienced emotional events, a particularly rigorous and useful test of this hypothesis would be to see if this held true in subjects who had very strong emotional reactions to images of spiders.

As in previous studies, when participants experienced low levels of control over experimental events, they tended to overestimate the amount of time they looked at highly arousing negative images (including photos of spiders) in relation to the amount of time they viewed highly arousing positive images. Buetti and Lleras also discovered that the more a person feared spiders, the more he or she tended to overestimate the duration of spider images.

"For spider-fearful individuals, it's as if time slows down when they are confronted with spiders," Lleras said.

But when the researchers induced a high level of perceived control in participants, the time distortions associated with the emotional content of the images went away.

"Even among spider-fearful participants, images of spiders no longer slowed time," said Lleras, who also is an affiliate of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

"Across experiments, we found that the same images, the same horrible or positive images are actually treated differently if you give a sense of control to participants," Buetti said. "All of a sudden, they're looking at the world differently; they're reacting to the world differently."

Some time distortions returned, however, when in a final experiment participants were made to feel in control of negative events (the viewing of mostly negative images). When they pursued a goal that violated their basic instincts and desires for well-being, Lleras said, their sense of control "failed to inoculate them from the time distortions associated with viewing very disturbing negative images."

The new findings have implications for future studies, the researchers said.

"We now know that experiments on emotion processing can lead to dramatically different outcomes depending on whether participants are offered a sense of control over experimental events or not," Buetti said.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Simona Buetti, Alejandro Lleras. Perceiving Control Over Aversive and Fearful Events Can Alter How We Experience Those Events: An Investigation of Time Perception in Spider-Fearful Individuals. Frontiers in Psychology, 2012; 3 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00337

Cite This Page:

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "A sense of control, even if illusory, eliminates emotion-driven distortions of time." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024133450.htm>.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2012, October 24). A sense of control, even if illusory, eliminates emotion-driven distortions of time. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024133450.htm
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "A sense of control, even if illusory, eliminates emotion-driven distortions of time." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121024133450.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

Techy Tots Are Forefront of London's Baby Show

AP (Oct. 28, 2014) Moms and Dads get a more hands-on approach to parenting with tech-centric products for raising their little ones. (Oct. 28) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Cocoa Could Be As Good For Memory As It Is For A Sweet Tooth

Newsy (Oct. 27, 2014) Researchers have come up with another reason why dark chocolate is good for your health. A substance in the treat can reportedly help with memory. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

Five-Year-Olds Learn Coding as Britain Eyes Digital Future

AFP (Oct. 27, 2014) Coding has become compulsory for children as young as five in schools across the UK. Making it the first major world economy to overhaul its IT teaching and put programming at its core. Duration: 02:19 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

Academic Scandal Shocks UNC

AP (Oct. 23, 2014) A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, a new investigation found. (Oct. 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins