Time is subjective.
Some days drag, while months can fly by.
The global coronavirus pandemic has heightened awareness of how our minds play tricks on us.
According to neuroscientists, there is not a single organ or bodily system responsible for timekeeping.
In fact, they’ve identified factors that actively wrap our sense of time.
Focus on the following objects.
Which felt longer - yellow or black?
You may have realized the black triangle lasted twice as long as the yellow.
Because you’d made a "retrospective judgement" based on memory of the shapes.
While this works with short durations, a different process is used for longer time periods.
Think back to the start of lockdown. Did that period go slow, or fast?
Many feel that the first month flew by, despite days being repetitive.
That’s because we’re making this judgement based on an event recalled from our longer term memory.
If you think of every notable event as the tick of a clock - there probably weren’t that many "ticks" in lockdown, so time feels like it sped by.
Another test: observe the following objects.
All images were shown for the same amount of time, but the "novel image" - the square - is often thought to have lasted longer.
This is called the “oddball effect” - which helps us understand how we deal with repetition.
Because we already have a record of the repeated object in memory, we pay less attention to it. So it feels like it passes through quicker.
When something novel occurs, our attention focuses on creating a new memory - causing time to feel as if it has slowed.
The suppression of repetitive days is one reason we may remember periods being stuck at home as passing quickly.
This is why retired people, who often live routine days, report time feels like it’s flying past.
Watch these objects.
Three stimuli were shown for the same duration, but the last is often thought to last longer.
That’s because things that require more attention feel much longer.
Emotion, too, can play a part.
We all know that "time flies when you’re having fun."
For some, the opposite is true of 2020.
Frontline health workers, for example, could have heightened attentiveness due to anxiety - making their days feel slower.
We tend to rely on memory rather than knowledge to date events in our lifetime. But - as we’ve seen - memory distorts our perception of time, and thus our sense of when things happen.
This is called “telescoping.”
2020 will not be forgotten as the year of the pandemic anytime soon, but there is a high probability that we will misplace exactly when some events occurred.
As you find yourself looking back on this year, be aware of the illusion of time.