How do people remember the time of an event? The nature of time encoding and decoding is a fundamental open question. Memorizing time of an event may employ two different processes (i) encoding of the absolute time of an event within an episode, (ii) encoding of its relative order compared to other events. Here we study interaction between these two processes. We performed experiments in which one or two items (either words or images) were presented within a certain time interval, after which participants were asked to report the time of occurrence of presented items. The results show that when a single item is presented, the distribution of reported times is quite wide, with the overall bias towards the middle of the interval. When two items are presented, the relative order among them strongly affected the reported time of each of them. Moreover, a Bayesian theory taking into account the memory for the events order is broadly compatible with the experimental data, in particular in terms of the effect of order on absolute time reports. Our results suggest that people do not deduce order from memorized time, instead people’s memory for absolute time of events relies critically on memorized order of the events.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience