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New review punctures the myth that now is three seconds long

10 May 2017

The idea that “now”, also known as the “subjective present”, is constrained within this time limit has proved popular.

But a new evaluation in Psychological Bulletin of dozens of research papers on everything from embraces and reading poetry to tapping along to a beat concludes that there’s no good evidence for it. Our experience of the present cannot, it seems, be so strictly defined.

Plenty of events that we perceive as happening at the same time actually don’t quite co-occur, of course. An intriguing illustration of this comes, for example, from the neurological patient known in the literature as PH. This man hears people’s voices before he registers the movement of their lips.

At first, he thought the TV wasn’t correctly dubbed, but then he realised the same thing was happening with people he was talking to. Evaluation of his case led the researchers involved to conclude that there are various clocks in the brain, and PH has developed problems with the coordination of those linked to vision and hearing.

Read more on our Research Digest blog.

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