Tempo Rubato : Animacy Speeds Up Time in the Brain
How do we estimate time when watching an action? The idea that events are timed by a centralized clock has recently been called into question in favour of distributed, specialized mechanisms. Here we provide evidence for a critical specialization: animate and inanimate events are separately timed by humans.
In different experiments, observers were asked to intercept a moving target or to discriminate the duration of a stationary flash while viewing different scenes. Time estimates were systematically shorter in the sessions involving human characters moving in the scene than in those involving inanimate moving characters. Remarkably, the animate/inanimate context also affected randomly intermingled trials which always depicted the same still character.
The existence of distinct time bases for animate and inanimate events might be related to the partial segregation of the neural networks processing these two categories of objects, and could enhance our ability to predict critically timed actions.