, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 518-530

Conservation of temporal information by perceptual systems

Abstract

Experiments in the auditory, visual, and vibratory modality employed two brief discriminably different stimuli, which were presented with temporal asynchronies unequivocally below the Hirsh-Sherrick threshold for performing temporal order judgments. A pair of such stimuli, experienced as a unitary perceptual event, is referred to as a “micropattern” composed of two “stimulus elements.” Ss could readily distinguish between two such micropatterns in which the temporal order of the stimulus elements was reversed. The discrimination was based on the perceptual dominance of the second stimulus element of each micropattern. This perceptual dominance was studied as a function of stimulus-element onset and offset asynchrony, the duration and intensity of the stimulus elements, and the difference (in frequency or wavelength) between the stimulus elements of a micropattern. The results suggest the existence of an operation of all perceptual systems in the time domain that acts to conserve information concerning the temporal order of the two stimulus elements at the expense of discriminatory acuity of the f’~rst element.

From the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Department of Neurology, University of California, School of Medicine, Davis, California.
I would like to thank M. Corder and M. Strachan for being patient and good-humored Ss for these tedious experiments.