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The biological psychology of peripheral vision

  1. Dec 9, 2015 #1
    This happened to me a few years ago, probably starting in 2008. I'd be sitting at me computer or watching TV and suddenly something would shift my attention to a clock somewhere, either on the TV, on my computer, on my phone, or maybe even on some sort of clock related monitor in some public venue. I would look at it, and the clock would read 9:11. Either AM or PM.

    Here is the qualification. This always seemed to happen when I was going through some crisis in my life. Mostly when my path was "off course" and I was drinking too much, not taking care of business, etc. Now, as proud neuropsychologist, I initially just put this down to coincidence. However, something about when I see the time 9:11, there's something unscientific in me that wants to interpret it as some "extra-scientific" source telling me that I'm getting off track and that I need to mobilize in the right direction. Well, let me qualify it more, it's not seeing the time as 9:11 per se, it's more specifically thinking that I just casually looked at the clock at that time of my own free will and there was a message for me.

    My alternative, scientific explanation for this, however, is that somehow this bug caught ahold of me psychologically and I became hypersensitized to the topological arrangement of these digits to the point that the peripheral sensors in my retina could pick up on these unconsciously and create a cascade of effects that would cause me turn my head and foveate on those digits and think that something else other than my predisposition to react to them caused that.

    If you have an opinion on this, I'd be very interested that, if your opinion it's the latter case, do you feel my head turning behavior arises at the optic tectum level (subconsciously) or perhaps a higher level?

    The principle reason I'm asking is that this just happened to me again 15 minutes ago, when I looked down int the corner of my laptop screen to find that it was, indeed, 9:11 PM. And I was thinking to myself, what reason on earth compelled me to check the time at just that instant. I can' think that there was one.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 10, 2015 #2


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    Out of all the times that you do check the time, how many turn up to be 9:11?
    Perhaps you are "remembering" 9:11 because you choose to do so, and choose to disregard all other times.

    How much you want to bet that just about everyone has some sort of occurance of a peculiarity ( maybe not such a good term ) such as you just described some time in their life, ie deja vu, or seeing a black cat three nights in a row for example. Could it be that our brains just look for cause and effect, or tries to search out patterns.

    Interesting though.
  4. Dec 10, 2015 #3
    Maybe some significant event earlier in your life was associated with that time, possibly a traumatic event.
    While you might not be thinking about it consciously, you will know approximately what time of days it is, and may be noticing the exact time quite frequently,
    because you have already associated that time with something happening previously, perhaps subconsciously you may be wary of something similar could happen again.
  5. Dec 10, 2015 #4


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    It's likely that you forget the other hundred times a day you see the time, but forget because you have nothing associated with those times. You have associated something with 9:11 and that's why you remember seeing it. That's normal. If you think there is something "special" about noticing 9:11, then that's where you're getting into "not normal". I wouldn't worry about it.

    There was a thread where someone asked about always seeing double digits on clocks, so for a couple of weeks i started noticing every time there were double digits 10:10, 11:11, 12:12. Between the computer and the cable box, i see the clock hundreds of times each day, but for those couple of weeks my attention was caught by the double digits. The novelty finally wore off.

    Anyway this is all anecdotal.
  6. Dec 13, 2015 #5
    Thanks to everyone who responded. My initial question, boiled down, was that I got it in my head that "something" was sending me a message by displaying 9:11 on a clock somewhere to subtly or not so subtly remind me that I'm getting off track and it's reaching a critical condition point. Hence 9:11 as in "emergency!"

    I thought that there's probably one of two causes of this. One, it's a statistical phenomenon: as has been mentioned here you look at the clock 100 times a day and in a given week there's gonna be "x" number of times that the clock is going to read 9:11. In my case, I think that I am seeing the time 9:11 at a greater statistical frequency than I would any other time reading on a clock because something is trying to tell me something. But I'm wrong. If you look at the statistical average of the chance probability of seeing the time 9:11 by randomly looking at a clock 100 times a day, the frequency with which I see that time is perfectly ordinary. In this case, my issue would appear to be more psychological in nature.

    Two, the alternative explanation, which I think is qualitatively distinct from the first, is that, even though I may look at the clock 100 a day, it's not a statistical situation that explains why I'm hyper-reacting to the times when I see the clock reading 9:11. More than the fact that most people are "consciously" frequently checking the time throughout the day is that our visual field/retina is more or less constantly reading the time on some clock somewhere throughout the day. For instance, I'm typing on a laptop right now and the digital time is displayed in the lower right corner. You have a digital clock on your car radio when you drive around, most public places have clocks everywhere as well as work places and schools. So my alternative explanation was that my noticing the time 9:11 is not a "statistical" phenomenon but more a "biological" one whereby, even though my brain is registering every passing minute of the time displayed on, say, my car radio as I am driving around, these times are largely ignored and don't reach my conscious awareness. However, when the clock hit 9:11, the peripheral receptors of my retina "sparks up" and creates a condition to inform my conscious perception of that.

    From the responses in thread, it seems as though everyone thinks what I'm experiencing is the former "statistical" condition. I think it might be the latter biological scenario but, to be honest, I'm not sure so that's why I asked the question. I think the opinions on this are interesting. To be complete, though, the biological condition I outlined above is a well-supported fact; the reason we have peripheral vision is to "unconsciously" detect threats that display some sign-signature type of stimuli in order to warn us, say, of some danger. For example, a slow moving object in our peripheral vision is much more unlikely to register in our conscious awareness than a fast-moving object. Typically what happens is that a significant stimulus (such as a fast moving object) presented to your peripheral vision will trigger a response in your midbrain superior colliculus. This is likely a hard-wired condition of the vertebrate brain in general, not just mammals. The triggering of the superior colliculus unconsciously causes a head movement to engage the stimulus in the foveal regions of the retina which facilitate the conscious perception and response to stimulus. I know pretty clearly how this mechanism works but I was not sure that what was what was happening in my experience of the "9:11" effect. I'm still not really sure..

    Yeah, I think one could probably design an experiment to weed out the statistical condition and look for MRI/granger-causal signatures to decide the issue, but I'm not that interested in the subject to design and suggest one. Lol. Somehow you'd have to have a test subject report when they noticed the time 9:11 on a clock but forget that they were actually looking for that number. Seems challenging but I'm sure some clever experimenter could design something workable.
  7. Dec 13, 2015 #6
    You could start by setting a loud alarm by your bedside to go off at 5.30am in the morning for no particular reason.
    If you did that for a couple of weeks, 9:11 would pale into insignificance.
  8. Dec 14, 2015 #7
    Well, that's a whole different story. It isn't relevant to the 9:11 case as presumably your eyes are closed and no information is hitting your retina at all. However, it does bring up the equally interesting issue as to how your biological clock becomes so tuned to an alarm clock. I've known may people, myself included, that somehow frequently seem to wake up, no matter what time they went to bed, 10 minutes or so before their alarm goes off. It would also be an interesting study as to what accounts for this phenomenon.
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