Illusory perceptions of space and time preserve cross-saccadic perceptual continuity

Abstract

When voluntary saccadic eye movements are made to a silently ticking clock, observers sometimes think that the second hand takes longer than normal to move to its next position1. For a short period, the clock appears to have stopped (chronostasis). Here we show that the illusion occurs because the brain extends the percept of the saccadic target backwards in time to just before the onset of the saccade. This occurs every time we move the eyes but it is only perceived when an external time reference alerts us to the phenomenon. The illusion does not seem to depend on the shift of spatial attention that accompanies the saccade. However, if the target is moved unpredictably during the saccade, breaking perception of the target's spatial continuity, then the illusion disappears. We suggest that temporal extension of the target's percept is one of the mechanisms that ‘fill in’ the perceptual ‘gap’ during saccadic suppression. The effect is critically linked to perceptual mechanisms that identify a target's spatial stability.

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Figure 1: Results for experiment 1.
Figure 2: Results for experiment 2.
Figure 3: Results for experiments 3 and 4.

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Acknowledgements

This study was supported by the Medical Research Council. We acknowledge the late P. A. Merton for alerting J.R. and P.B. to the importance of the ‘stopped clock’ illusion.

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Correspondence to Kielan Yarrow.

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Yarrow, K., Haggard, P., Heal, R. et al. Illusory perceptions of space and time preserve cross-saccadic perceptual continuity. Nature 414, 302–305 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35104551

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