We examined whether estimating average duration was influenced by the distribution peak location. We presented participants with samples of various tone durations and then presented comparison tone durations. Participants judged whether each comparison duration was longer than the average sample duration. Estimates of the averages were inferred from the psychophysical functions. The durations were sampled from three distributions: one positively skewed, one symmetric, and one negatively skewed. In Experiment 1, every participant was presented with every distribution. Estimates of the averages were unbiased for the symmetric distribution but were biased toward the long tail of each skewed distribution. This would occur if participants combined the sample to be judged with the previous, irrelevant samples, or with the comparison durations. In Experiment 2, each participant was presented with samples from only one of the distributions. Estimates of the averages were still biased toward the long tails of the skewed distributions. This would occur if participants combined the sample to be judged with the comparison durations, which were the same for the three distributions. In Experiment 3, each participant was presented with only one distribution, and each distribution was tested with its own comparison durations, selected as percentiles from the distribution. The estimates were accurate for the smallest population mean (positively skewed distribution) but underestimated the larger means. These results could be explained by subjective shortening of the durations in memory, with a simple equation from scalar timing theory. This equation correctly predicted two results: The estimated averages were a linear function of the stimulus means, and the variances were a linear function of the squared stimulus means. Neither prediction was dependent on the skewness of the stimulus durations.
- Math modeling
- Temporal processing