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Hearing noise and moving our body helps us gauge the passing of time

People may be more aware of how much time has passed when they move their body and hear sounds during the event. This improved time perception may help to gauge the effectiveness of treatments for conditions like Parkinson’s disease


1 February 2023

In an experiment, participants were asked to estimate the amount of time that passed while they controlled a robotic arm

Martin Weiner

Moving your body while listening to sounds may help you more accurately perceive the passing of time during a particular event.

Past research suggests that this finding could help to improve treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, which often affects a person’s motor function and the timing of their movements. Improved accuracy to our perception of time may help doctors to assess the effectiveness of interventions that aim to ease these symptoms.

When an event occurs, the body has various means of measuring how long it lasted. For example, moving our body can help to improve our accuracy when counting the length of auditory tones. But it was unclear to what extent the moving itself contributed to this or how accurately we keep time by movement alone.

To learn more, Martin Wiener at George Mason University in Virginia and his colleagues asked 20 people to control a robotic arm, projected onto a screen, until they felt a vibration to stop moving. The participants then pressed a button down for how long they thought they had moved the arm.

Next, the participants listened to a tone lasting between 1 and 4 seconds, and pressed the button to correspond with how long they thought the tone lasted. They then controlled the arm and heard the tone at the same time, and again pressed the button for what they thought was the correct amount of time.

In the robotic arm experiment, the participants slightly underestimated how much time had passed, but when hearing the auditory tones, they slightly overestimated. They were most accurate when receiving both inputs.

“What we found is that people incorporated both [signals] together to go right in the middle at the right interval, which tells us that the brain has this way of bringing the right signals together at the right time,” says Wiener.

Hearing rhythmic noises has been linked with people with Parkinson’s walking more steadily, but it’s unclear to what extent these noises are responsible. By measuring how our sense of time perception can change, we can assess the effectiveness of these interventions, says Wiener.

“This is a fascinating study which significantly advances understanding of the potential ways in which we optimally combine multiple sources of sensory information to produce timed behaviours,” says Ruth Ogden at Liverpool John Moores University, UK.

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