09 March 2004


Whaddaya know. It turns out that the human mind buffers about three seconds of experience.
We take life 3 seconds at a time. Human experience and behaviour is characterized by temporal segmentation. Successive segments or 'time windows' have a duration of approximately 3 seconds.


  • intentional movements are embedded within 3s (like a handshake)
  • the anticipation of a precise movement like hitting a golf ball does not go beyond 3 s
  • if we reproduce the duration of a stimulus, we can do so accurately up to 3 s but not beyond
  • if we look at ambiguous figures (like a vase vs. two faces) or if we listen to ambiguous phoneme sequences (like Cu-Ba-Cu-Ba-.., either hearing Cuba or Bacu) automatically after approx. 3 s the percept switches to the alternative
  • the working platform of our short term memory lasts only 3 s (being interrupted after 3 s most of the information is gone)
  • spontaneous speech in all languages is temporally segmented, each segment lasting up to 3 s
  • this temporal segmentation of speech shows up again in poetry, as a verse of a poem is embedded within 3 s (Shakespeare: 'Shall I compare thee to a summer's day')
  • musical motives preferably last 3 s (remember Beethoven's Fifth Symphony)
  • decisions are made within 3 s (like zapping between TV channels)

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