Time experience during reading - an experimental study

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Ewa Nagórska

:classical_building: Affiliation: University of Warsaw

Title: Time experience during reading - an experimental study

Abstract (long version below): This paper is a presentation of a study on time perception during reading. Instead of focusing on certain aspects of texts and identifying their impact on the reader (in line with Russian formalists’ approach) or the readers’ characteristics (e.g. their need for affect; Appel, Gnambs, & Maio, 2012), we examine the interplay of a certain text and reader, in line with an enactivistic approach (Popova and Cuffari, 2018), with the focus on its temporal aspect. During the talk, the results of the study will be shown.

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:newspaper: Long abstract


While a new research on time perception and reading emerges (e.g. Pianzola, Riva, Kukkonen & Mantovani, 2021), there is still a shortage of empirical studies on time experience during reading. Though, throughout the years, several aspects of alterations in reading times have been experimentally explored, there are not many studies focusing on time perception while reading the text “as a whole”. Although there are several factors that are generally agreed on as impacting the reading times or time perception during the process, such as text difficulty, its length, or emotional reaction it evokes, as well as readers’ immersive tendencies, the researchers tend to explore more “standardized”, often simplified texts to obtain generalizable results, separating the reader’s experience and the text’s features (e.g. the noun-to-verb ratio, readability levels).

However, as it is virtually impossible to dissect the reading process by “isolating” the reader from the text, because readers’ experiences, memory, and personality strongly influence their reception of the literary text, there is a need for a more unitary research.
In line with enactivistic approach, applied to literary studies (Popova, 2014; Popova and Cuffari, 2018; Caracciolo, 2012, 2013), this paper proposes combining behavioural study with a survey, asking the participants about their first-person perspective. The experimental part of the research follows in the steps of similar studies, conducted in the 1990’s by Janós László and Gerald Cupchik (Cupchik & László, 1994; László & Cupchik, 1995), researching higher-level structure/category of the text (e.g. if it is action- or experience-oriented) and it’s impact on the readers’ time estimation.


There are literary texts that can influence the reader’s time perception during reading (due to an interaction of the text and the reader and their reception of it).

Study design

This study examines time perception during reading five short literary texts (5-6 sentence-long excerpts from “The Secret Agent” by Joseph Conrad) and possible alterations in readers’ estimations of reading times. The experiment is conducted online, via Gorilla software (www.gorilla.sc), with an expected group of participants of 80 people. It consists of five text-oriented modules (the first of which is a test block, to familiarize the reader with the task) and a questionnaire examining one’s reading habits and prowess.

In each module, the participants are asked to do a self-paced reading task on a computer while their screen times are measured. Each text is divided into either 4 or 5 screens, of similar lengths, with no possibility of re-reading the previous text (the sentences presented on the previous screen). After finishing each passage, the participants have to retrospectively estimate their reading time, and answer questions about their reception of the fragment, including transportation (via Transportation Scale-Short Form, Appel et al., 2015), the narrative’s flow, dynamics, and whether they liked the passage.

Two of the texts are hypothesized to alter time perception, e.g. accelerate or decelerate it – judged by comparing real (recorded) and reported reading times. Out of the remaining three, the first one is a test passage, and the other two texts are treated as a control, and are similar in length and difficulty level to the ‘experimental’ passages they are paired with. These three texts are thought to be neutral in terms of changing time perception, but this hypothesis will also be rejected or confirmed upon gathering experimental data.


The results of the experiment will be presented during the conference.