The origin of Vierordt’s law: The experimental protocol matters

Glasauer, S., & Shi, Z. (2021). The origin of Vierordt’s law: The experimental protocol matters. PsyCh Journalpchj.464.


In 1868, Karl Vierordt discovered one type of errors in time perception—an overestimation of short duration and underestimation of long durations, known as Vierordt’s law. Here we reviewed the original study in its historical context and asked whether Vierordt’s law is a result of an unnatural experimental randomization protocol. Using iterative Bayesian updating, we simulated the original results with high accuracy. Importantly, the model also predicted that a slowly changing random-walk sequence produces less central tendency than a random sequence with the same durations. This was validated by a duration reproduction experiment from two sequences (random and random walk) with the same sampled distribution. The results showed that trial-wise variation influenced the magnitude of Vierordt’s law. We concluded that Vierordt’s law is caused by an unnatural yet widely used experimental protocol.

The paper is open access and can be downloaded here.