I am interested in the question of how people use/integrate previous experiences with instances of tasks or events to make predictions about the duration of future instances of tasks/events.

To illustrate: I am a regular user of Google Calendar, and I use its drag-and-stretch time-interval interface. In doing so, I constantly seem to be making judgments such as "Event A has properties [a1,...,aN], ####.... it will probably last about two hours". My question, then, is: what is happening during the "####" stage of this process?

**EDIT: To avoid confusion, I would like to make clear that I am interested in cases where an agent is facing an "instance" of a "type" of event (if you imagine that the agent has a set of "memory traces" related to instances of the event, then I am referring to a case in which there is a reasonably high amount of variance/uncertainty in duration across previous instances), that agent has certain knowledge/evidence, and the agent must make a guess and/or a decision based upon a guess. I've used the calendar planning example as an illustration. However, I am asking this question more broadly, as it relates to time scales ranging from very small to very large.

This question can be addressed at many levels of analysis (in Marr's sense). I am familiar with research related to this question, such as Griffiths and Tenenbaum's "Optimal Predictions in Everyday Cognition", Warren Meck's "Neuropharmacology of Timing and Time Perception", and empirical work on human planning behaviors/suboptimalities.

Can you recommend any further readings on this topic? I am particularly interested in research that treats this problem as an inductive reasoning task and investigates the question through the use of computational models.

UPDATE: I have just begun finding some very relevant articles, such as these:

1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15716368 (link to abstract)

2) http://www.shadlen.org/pmwiki/uploads/Science/JazayeriNat%20Neurosci2010.pdf

Griffiths, T. L., & Tenenbaum, J. B. (2006). Optimal predictions in everyday cognition. Psychological Science, 17(9), 767-773. PDF

Meck, W. H. (1996). Neuropharmacology of timing and time perception. Cognitive Brain Research, 3(3), 227-242. PDF

  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand the question. If I have a class next monday, and classes are 90 minutes each, I know it will probably be around 90 minutes. If I meet my friends for a drink at eight, and I know I need to catch the last bus, I know the get-together won't last longer than the span between the two times. Where is the mystery in putting those dates into my calendar? $\endgroup$ – user1196 Apr 8 '13 at 7:23
  • $\begingroup$ Hi what, I didn't intend to limit the question's scope to the example of putting entries into a calendar. Addressing your question, though: it's possible that I am a bit peculiar in the way I use calendars... I tend to schedule every little event and continually modify my estimates of duration. You've presented one case (a scheduled class) in which there is essentially no uncertainty about duration. Your second case might not be the best example either for multiple reasons (e.g. you have control over the duration, and you've suggested an upper bound on duration rather than a prediction). $\endgroup$ – Mynah Apr 8 '13 at 17:13
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    $\begingroup$ Examples at smaller temporal scales: 1) You are at a crosswalk. A car is coming your way at a certain speed S1. The "Do Not Walk" sign has been flashing for a certain amount of time T1. You must decide: "is it too late to run across the street, or can I still make it?". 2) Each morning, you get a coffee from a coffee shop. Getting your coffee never takes the same amount of time. In fact, you live in a tourist-y city, and there is a great deal of variance in waiting time because the length of the line varies. Before you enter the coffee shop, make your best guess about how long it will take. $\endgroup$ – Mynah Apr 8 '13 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ I believe some psychologists would say that from a two process model (like the Elaboration Likelihood Model) what happens during #### depends on how important an accurate judgment is for you at that moment. If you really want to do your best (because you need to catch that train) there is probably some kind of conscious logic/probabilistic reasoning going on, like "thumbnailing" the mean of remembered lengths, correcting this for what you can see (how many people are on the street today, so is the line going to be long) etc. If you don't much care or are tired or distracted, [continued] $\endgroup$ – user1196 Apr 8 '13 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ [continued] some kind of heuristic will kick in and you will "guess" the duration based on cues like your emotion ("I feel it will take forever today" or "I'm afraid I will miss my train"). $\endgroup$ – user1196 Apr 8 '13 at 18:26