Directional biases in durative inference

AbstractDescriptions of durational relations can be ambiguous, e.g., the description ‘two different meetings happened at the same time’ could mean that one meeting started before the other ended, or it could mean that the meetings both started and ended simultaneously. A recent theory posits that people mentally simulate events with durations by representing the starts and ends of events along a chronological axis (Khemlani et al., 2015). To draw conclusions from this durational mental model, reasoners consciously scan it in the direction of earlier time points to later time points. The account predicts that people should prefer descriptions that are congruent with a chronological scanning procedure, e.g., descriptions that mention the starts of events before the ends of events. Two experiments corroborate the prediction, and show that chronological biases in temporal reasoning manifest in cases when reasoners consciously evaluate the durations of events.

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