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I've been searching for info on this but I'm usually finding unrelated information.

My question is whether there is a time range in which our mind suspects that two events are correlated.

For example: pressing a pedal in the car and hearing a noise (even if it's somewhere else) in the next second makes you suspicious that your action caused that event. If we stretch the time variable (time between those two events), it is less obvious.

Applying this to any other concept, it seems that time is really a factor in terms of correlation detection, but I couldn't find any studies on it.

So, if time is a factor in correlation detection between events, then which is the effective time range that makes us think two events are correlated?

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What is the information that you found which you are not interested in? (in general terms, just so that someone doesn't duplicate your efforts) –  Chuck Sherrington Jul 3 '12 at 0:32
@ChuckSherrington Basically, I couldn't find anything on the subject, mainly because I do not know which is the proper technical term for this perception characteristic. Looking for terms always brings up results and studies on unrelated contexts. –  Alpha Jul 4 '12 at 1:52
Well, I think Jeromy's hit the nail on the head in terms of the level at which you were looking. I was initially thinking about writing an answer about the importance of the timing of coincident events in learning and memory (specifically conditioning), but rereading what you've written, I think that's too much of a detour on your question. –  Chuck Sherrington Jul 4 '12 at 4:04
@ChuckSherrington Conditioning in learning would also determine the effects that I'm describing, so I see it as useful as well. Would you mind to complement waldog's answer with your own? –  Alpha Jul 4 '12 at 4:09
@Alpha has waldog answered your question in sufficient detail? If so, will you consider accepting his answer? If not, what more are you looking for in the answer? –  Artem Kaznatcheev Sep 14 '12 at 14:14
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1 Answer

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I think you are asking about quite a high-level definition of "correlated", and this is obviously going to depend on the particular context or stimulus. That is, knowledge about thunder and lightning allows us to infer that they have a common cause, even though perceptually they can be decoupled (that is, we don't perceive them as occurring together).

However, I can point you to a few things that speak to the perception of correlation in time. This literature concerns the perception of synchrony between two stimuli, such as a flash (vision) and a beep (audition). For visual-auditory pairings, the window of "temporal synchrony" can be quite imprecise: events can be separated by up to 200 ms and still be judged as having occurred at the same time (see Dixon and Spitz, 1980, and Vatakis and Spence, 2006).

However, with multiple events in the environment and depending on the type of stimulus, sensitivity can improve. The above literature as well as my general reply is sourced from this article by Roseboom et al (2011), which may be a good starting point for further reading if this is where you were going with the question.


  • Dixon NF, Spitz L (1980) The detection of auditory visual desynchrony. Perception 9: 719–721.
  • Roseboom, W., Nishida, S., Fujisaki, W. & Arnold, D.H. (2011). Audio-visual speech timing sensitivity is enhanced in cluttered conditions. PLoS One, 6, e18309.
  • Vatakis A, Spence C (2006) Audiovisual synchrony perception for music, speech, and object actions. Brain Research 1111: 134–142.
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One might also add that the temporal window can be influenced by training. See, for instance: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19793985 –  H.Muster Jul 4 '12 at 9:40
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