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stemnyjones's avatar

Psychology question: How is temporal contiguity related to the mistakes we often make?

Asked by stemnyjones (3974points) September 14th, 2011

I am trying to understand how temporal contiguity is related to mistakes that people make.

For those who don’t know, temporal contiguity is when two stimuli occur together in a short period of time, and so we create an association between the two.

An example of this would be ringing a bell every time you are about to present food to a dog. After a while, the dog will begin to salivate as soon as he hears the bell. (Pavlov’s experiment)

My professor has recommended that we understand how this phenomenon can explain mistakes that people often make, but after both reading the textbook and doing a quick google search, I have been unable to come up with anything.

Anyone have any clue?

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17 Answers

janbb's avatar

I have never heard the term but I imagine the mistakes could be made if you felt that one of the stimuli was the cause of the other. Let’s say a child reaches out and touches a hot stove at the same time that cold water was accidentally poured on their head. They might make an association between heat and getting wet and never want to go in water for fear of burning. Or a child who was naughty right before a parent was injured would mistakenly believe that their actions caused the injury. Does that make sense?

stemnyjones's avatar

Yeah, it does make sense. Thanks for answering.

I know that most often in that class we talk about the contiguity happening when the two stimuli occur together multiple times, but I’m not sure if that always has to be the case.

nikipedia's avatar

Does your professor give any examples of the kinds of mistakes s/he’s thinking about?

stemnyjones's avatar

I’m thinking it could also be where a behavior has two different consequences that could occur, but we focus on the incorrect one?

Like, someone driving through a red light might get to work early, but they could also have gotten a speeding ticket?

@nikipedia No. The “study guide” just says: “What is temporal contiguity? How is this related to the mistakes we often make?”

janbb's avatar

But that’s not really two stimuli occurring at the same time.

nikipedia's avatar

My instinct is that your professor is going for something similar to magical thinking. People see two events that happen closely together in time, and think that one caused the other. For instance, you smell a certain perfume (event 1) and you sneeze immediately after (event 2). You might mistakenly conclude that the perfume caused you to sneeze, but in reality you were going to sneeze anyway.

Does that make sense?

stemnyjones's avatar

@janbb When I was asking this question I didn’t have my notes open, so I copy and pasted that definition from the internet, but this is the definition my professor gave me:

temporal contiguity – relation between behavior and its consequences

@nikipedia Yes, that does make sense, thanks.

janbb's avatar

@nikipedia‘s idea was similar to mine and both seem to fit with your definition. It sounds like the mistakes can be misperceptions of causality.

stemnyjones's avatar

I know, I noticed that they were the same concept, I just wanted to reply and tell @nikipedia thanks for answering.

filmfann's avatar

Ever gone thru a red light when the “walk” light changed?

stemnyjones's avatar

Is that a literal question, or are you suggesting that as an example?

stemnyjones's avatar

I like that example. It seems more fitting to the question, considering that it is still a response that was conditioned, except it’s being displaced into the wrong situation.

And no I haven’t, but I have started to walk when the red light changed. But only if no cars are coming. :D

talljasperman's avatar

Could racism be an example?

Jeruba's avatar

Any notion that something will “jinx” something else is probably an example of this mistaken reasoning.

Cruiser's avatar

Sex, drugs and alcohol are 3 classic excuses for poor choices people make and subsequently rationalize as justifiable when looking for an easy resolution to stressful situations.

Stress + any of the above 3 as an example will produce your temporal incongruity.

stemnyjones's avatar

Thanks, everyone!

He didn’t even end up incorporating it into the test. Go figure.

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