Vision shift glasses alter time perception

There’s an intriguing study about to be published in Psychological Science finding that people wearing prism glasses that shift everything to the right overestimate the passage of time, while people wearing left-shift glasses underestimate it.

The researchers, led by psychologist Francesca Frassinetti, asked participants to watch a square appear on-screen for varying time periods, and then reproduce the duration or half the duration with a key press.

Glasses that skewed vision to the left seemed to shrink time, while glasses that skew everything to the right expanded it.

Apart from the interesting perceptual effect, it gives further evidence for the idea that our internals model of space and time are heavily linked, to the point where modifying one has a knock-on effect on the other.

In fact, there is increasing evidence that other abstract concepts are implicitly understood as having a spatial layout. Experiments on the SNARC effect have found that numbers seem to have a ‘location’, with larger numbers being on the right and smaller numbers on the left.

At least, that seems to be the case for native English-speakers, but for Arabic speakers, where text is written right-to-left, the reverse seems to be true.

It would be interesting to whether Arabic speakers show a reverse time alteration effect of if they wear prism glasses. Whatever the answer, it would raise lots of interesting questions about how much language influences our abstract ideas and whether it only applies to certain concepts.

Prism glasses have long been a tool in psychology and there is a mountain of research on how we adjust to living in the world even when everything is shifted through the lens.

Tom recently found a fantastic (1950s?) archive film called ‘Living in a Reversed World: Some Experiments on How We See the Directions of Things’ where several volunteers are asked to wear prism glasses for weeks on end.

Hilarity ensues, at least at first, but as co-ordination skills adapt the volunteers can go about their daily tasks, to the point of being able to ride bicycles, even when their vision has been flipped around.

Link to summary of prism and time perception study.
Link to Living in a Reversed World (via @tomstafford)

3 Comments

  1. Posted July 22, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating, and in line with the theory of conceptual spaces http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=FSLFjw1EcBwC

  2. smallerdemon
    Posted July 22, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    When I was a kid I got a big kick out of trying to navigate the world with an old rear view mirror just below my eyes with it facing upward the whole time. :)

  3. bob_calder
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    I have it on good authority that Seymour Papert walked around with prism glasses on at one time in South Africa.


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