Background music as a quasi clock in retrospective duration judgments

Nicole Bailey, Charles S. Areni*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


The segmentation-change model of time perception proposes that individuals engaged in cognitive tasks during a given interval of time retrospectively estimate duration by recalling events that occurred during the interval and inferring each event's duration. Previous research suggests that individuals can recall the number of songs heard during an interval and infer the length of each song, exactly the conditions that foster estimates of duration based on the segmentation-change model. The results of a laboratory experiment indicated that subjects who solved word-search puzzles for 20 min. estimated the duration of the interval to be longer when 8 short songs (<3 min.) as opposed to 4 long songs (6+ min.) were played in the background, regardless of whether the musical format was Contemporary Dance or New Age. Assuming each song represented a distinct segment in memory, these results are consistent with the segmentation-change model. These results suggest that background music may not always reduce estimates of duration by drawing attention away from the passage of time, Instead, background music may actually expand the subjective length of an interval by creating accessible traces in memory, which are retrospectively used to infer duration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)435-444
Number of pages10
JournalPerceptual and Motor Skills
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2006


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