Once example of a study conducted in relation to the perception of time was held in 2005 at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Psychologists Marc Wittmann and Sara Lenhoff surveyed a sample of 499 participants, aged between 14 and 94. They were asked about how fast they felt time was moving, and had the option to select different answers ranging from “very slowly”, to “very fast”.
The psychologists conducting the study concluded that the perception of short periods of time, namely days, weeks or months, did not change with age. In fact, the general perception for these time periods was that the clocked ticked by quickly.
In contrast, when participants were asked about longer periods of time, such as a decade, a pattern began to emerge. Older people had a much greater tendency to perceive such time periods as moving faster.
The study’s participants aged 40 or older felt that time elapsed slowly in their childhood, but accelerated steadily from when they were in their teens into early adulthood.
The main reason for this is that a human being can estimate the length of an event from two distinct vantage points, prospective and retrospective. As their names suggest, the former occurs when an event is still ongoing, and the latter occurs when an event has ended.
A secondary reason for the perception of accelerated time is that our experience of time simply varies from one experience to the other. This means that there really is truth in the saying “time flies when you’re having fun”. The funny thing is that when we’re in such special moments, they seem to end quickly, however our perception of them when we look back at them makes it seem as if they were much longer than they really were.
It’s believed that the reason for the aforementioned is how the brain encodes new experiences. In other words, the more new memories we build on a weekend getaway, the longer the trip will seem in hindsight.
According to BBC columnist and psychologist Claudia Hammond, this is what’s known as the “holiday paradox”. From childhood through to early adulthood, we go through many new experiences and learn a whole myriad of new skills. As time goes by, our lives become more routine, thus we tend to experience less moments that are unfamiliar.
She contends that because we deal with so many new things in our early lives, this leads to over-representation of our early lives in our autobiographical memory. The inevitable result of this is that the time seems to have lasted longer.
All of these findings don’t mean that we are unable to slow time down in later life. In fact, we can do so by keeping our brains active, continually learning new skills and ideas, and exploring new places.
Content Source: Scientific American