TIME PERCEPTION IN CHILDREN: EMPIRICAL STUDIES IN A DEVELOPMENTAL APPROACH

  • Anna D. Eisler
  • Hannes Eisler

Abstract

Time perception in children has been investigated mostly by an approach that integrates information regarding time, speed and distance in a Piagetian tradition. Piaget claimed that conceptual thinking develops independently of perception. Surprisingly, little subsequent research has been attempted to explore more directly time perception (subjective experience of time) in relation to physical (clock) time in children in a developmental perspective. The purpose of the present experiments was to compare time perception in a prospective paradigm (the experience of time-in-passing) in two groups of children aged 11-13 and 14-16 years with adults aged 19-45 years, using short standard durations and the psychophysical methods of reproduction (Experiment 1) and verbal estimation in subjective seconds (Experiment 2). The results show that reproductions did not differ between the three groups (Experiment 1), while in verbal estimation a developmental trend was found (Experiment 2). The younger group of children estimated the standard durations longer and less veridical than the adults. The estimates of the older group of children lay in between. The ability of children to reproduce standard durations like adults may be due to that the method of reproduction is more based on biological processes and less influenced by cognitive factors, as opposed to verbal estimation, which requires a wide variety of cognitive experiences. The findings also indicate that even the younger children at the age of 11-13 years understand the concept of time very well, which is clearly evident from the fact that they are able to use conventional time units (seconds) in a consistent way (approximately linearly related to the standard durations), despite their tendency to estimate the standard durations longer than the adults. The reason for this is probably that, besides a certain lack of cognitive experiences, psychological (subjective, perceived) time passes slower for children than for adults, which is in line with Fitzpatrick Ìs statement (1980). The present findings contradict Fraisse who stated that the abstract quality of the time sense generally does not appear before an age of fifteen years (Fraisse, 1967). The results are discussed in relation to both phylogenetic and ontogenetic approaches, and to a developmental perspective on time perception.

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