Perceiving numbers alters time perception

Massimiliano Oliveri, Carmelo Mario Vicario, Silvia Salerno, Giacomo Koch, Patrizia Turriziani, Renata Mangano, Gaetana Chillemi, Carlo Caltagirone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The representation of time, space and numbers are strictly linked in the primate's cognitive system. Here we show that merely looking at number symbols biases a temporal judgment on their duration depending upon the number's magnitude. In a first experiment, a group of healthy subjects was submitted to a time estimation task, requiring to judge whether the duration of a test stimulus was longer or shorter than that of a previous reference fixed stimulus (digit 5; duration 300 ms). Test stimuli were the digits 1, 5 and 9 ranging between 250 and 350 ms. The main results showed that temporal perception was biased according to the magnitude expressed by the digit: low digits (i.e. 1) leading to underestimation and high digits (i.e. 9) an overestimation of perceived duration. Control experiments showed that this result was consistent whatever digits were tested but not when letters of the alphabet were used. These findings argue for a functional interaction between time and numbers in the cognitive system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-311
Number of pages4
JournalNeuroscience Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 27 2008


  • Magnitude
  • Numbers
  • Time perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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