Perceiving control over aversive and fearful events can alter how we experience those events: An investigation of time perception in spider-fearful individuals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We used a time perception task to study the effects of the subjective experience of control on emotion and cognitive processing. This task is uniquely sensitive to the emotionality of the stimuli: high-arousing negative stimuli are perceived as lasting longer than higharousing positive events, while the opposite pattern is observed for low-arousing stimuli. We evaluated the temporal distortions of emotionally charged events in non-anxious (Experiments 1 and 5) and spider-fearful individuals (Experiments 2-4). Participants were shown images of varying durations between 400 and 1600ms and were asked to report if the perceived duration of the image seemed closer to a short (400 ms) or to a long (1600 ms) standard duration. Our results replicate previous findings showing that the emotional content of the image modulated the perceived duration of that image. More importantly, we studied whether giving participants the illusion that they have some control over the emotional content of the images could eliminate this temporal distortion. Results confirmed this hypothesis, even though our participant population was composed of highly reactive emotional individuals (spider-fearful) facing fear-related images (spiders). Further, we also showed that under conditions of little-to-no control, spider-fearful individuals perceive temporal distortions in a distinct manner from non-anxious participants: the duration of events was entirely determined by the valence of the events, rather than by the typical valence arousal interaction. That is, spider-fearful participants perceived negative events as lasting longer than positive events, regardless of their level of arousal. Finally, we also showed that under conditions of cognitive dissonance, control can eliminate temporal distortions of low arousal events, but not of high-arousing events, providing an important boundary condition to the otherwise positive effects of control on time estimation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 337
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Volume3
Issue numberSEP
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Keywords

  • Emotion and cognition
  • Emotion regulation
  • Feeling of control
  • Spider-fearful
  • Time perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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