Temporal binding due to causality

ScienceDaily has an item (here) reporting a paper by Marc J. Buehner, Understanding the Past, Predicting the Future: Causation, not Intentional Action, is the Root of Temporal Binding, in Psychological Science.


When events happen close together in time and space they can be bound together as part of the same meaningful episode. And further more they are perceived to be closer together in time. This has been called temporal binding.

Research has shown that our perceptual system seems to pull causally-related events together — compared to two events that are thought to happen of their own accord, we perceive the first event as occurring later if we think it is the cause and we perceive the second event as occurring earlier if we think it is the outcome.


This has been thought to be due to motor intention.

Some researchers have hypothesized that our perceptual system binds events together if we perceive them to be the result of intentional action, and that temporal binding results from our ability to link our actions to their consequences.


Buehner questioned this hypothesis.

“We already know that people are more likely to infer a causal relation if two things are close in time. It follows, via Bayesian calculus, that the reverse should also be true: If people know two things are causally related, they should expect them to be close in time,” Buehner says. “Time perception is inherently uncertain, so it makes sense for systematic biases in the form of temporal binding to kick in. If this is true, then it would suggest that temporal binding is a general phenomenon of which intentional action is just a special case.”


He compared time predictions of baseline events, events caused by the subject, and events caused by a machine. The time prediction of events caused by the subject and by a machine were the same and differed from the baseline events which were not causally related. Intentionality is not the cause of the binding, perceived causality was. “Causation instills a subjective time warp in people’s minds.