Inquiry Question: What is time, and why does its existence make us revolve around its complex concept?
Round 1 Research Question – How does our perception of time change throughout the course of our lives? Why does time seem to move faster as we age?
People often believe that time flies by as they get older (2). To enhance this longstanding idea, psycologists and scientists alike have long explored the phenomena where people percieve that time passes much faster as they get older (1). According to Professor Adrian Bejan, the brain’s ability to absorb visual information slows with age because of the growing neural networks and nerve damage from simply existing over the years (2). Older brains’ larger and more intricate neural networks cause signals to travel longer distances, promoting nerve injury (2).
Similar to this theory, people who process information more slowly experience fewer “frames-per-second.” (2) Since fewer images are processed for every actual unit of time, this causes the subjective perception of time move by much faster (2). On the other hand, being young gives one the impression that time moves more slowly, partly due to the richness of their mental images (2). Nonetheless memory and life experience shape how we perceive time (3). Paul Janet, a French Philosopher, first put forth the “log time” idea in the year 1897 (6). As a person gets older, a year represents a lower percentage of a person’s complete life up until a certain age (6). Picture this, an eight-year-old may view a week as meaningful as it represents a larger chunk of their life, whereas an eighty-year-old may view the same exact week as a lot shorter (3).
It is important to note that people’s lives become increasingly coincided with routine as they get older, their days starting to appear the same (3). The brain has a tendency to group together days that are similar due to how alike they are, which makes the total amount of time pass rapidly (3). Accordingly, perceived length of time is influenced by the richness of representation in one’s memory (3). When looking back on a sub-section of one’s life, time is more likely to have passed quickly if that person’s daily experiences were less diversified as opposed to vastly different; requiring the brain to work harder to adapt to (3). New experiences are encoded by the brain more thoroughly than regular, everyday ones (6). These fresh events are equipped with more energy and leave weak traces in the brain, whereas established experiences are preserved as high-definition (HD) memories (6).
The Temporal Bisection Tasking technique has been utilized be researchers to examine how accurately kids as opposed to adults perceive time (5). Around the age of five, young children typically have lower accuracy and see short tones as longer than they actually are (5). Children’s neural transmission speed is heavily influenced by their developing working memory, attention span, and executive function (5). Following early childhood, real-time perception does not show this developmental lag (5).
Unsurprisingly, anxiety is directly correlated with a faster perception of time, which is related to mental health. (1) Reducing stress and practising mindfulness is arguably one of the only ways in which relaxation can be achieved through the practice of mindfulness and slowing down. (1) The COVID-19 pandemic increased people’s awareness of how time is perceived; over 80% of the study’s participants in the UK cited that time moved differently during the lock down. (1) Additionally, age-related alterations in time perception were investigated through a Hungarian study conducted recently. (1) After watching movies with diverse degrees of activity, participants of different age groups were found to have a substantial age affect on how long they perceived the videos to be. (1)
People are able to gauge the duration of an event from one of two angles: prospective during the event and retrospective after it has concluded (4). The brain’s ability to encode new experiences into memory plays a vital role into the formation of new memories, in turn influencing our ability to judge time in the past (4). Interestingly, during a baby’s birth, there are no past experiences or labels plaguing their mind, causing this moment to seem endless (6). Taking part in new activities makes time seem to go by faster at the time, while the activity may actually seem to stay longer in memory after the fact (4). Even though the goal time span is very short, the author uses personal experiences–such as remodelling a house–to show how taking on new activities can make time seem like it is dragging on (6).
Psychologist Claudia Hammond presents the idea of the “holiday paradox,” holding the richness of one’s early experiences making it seem as if time is moving more slowly (4). This, as previously stated, is largely due to an established routine causing little to no room for new experiences to run rampant in our lives (4). However, people can slow down how quickly time seems to pass by keeping their minds busy, constantly picking up new knowledge and abilities, and travelling to different locations (4). Another possible way to improve retrospective time is to reflect on the day’s events at the conclusion of each day (5). Time can seem longer when paying more attention to the past, as well as being increasingly present in the today (5).
All things considered, our subjective perception of time is an intricately complex phenomenon impacted by environmental, psychological, and cognitive factors. Examining this notion helps us to better understand the concept of time and gain the ability to intentionally and mindfully journey through it. Setting out on a voyage of self-discovery and conscious appreciation for the little moments that define life as we continue to solve for the secrets of time perception allow us to fully grasp this complex concept, adding meaning to how it passes each day.
- Shiffer, Emily. ‘Why Time Flies Faster With Age (and How to Slow It Down)’. WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20230418/why-time-flies-faster-with-age. Accessed 18 Nov. 2023.
2. admin. ‘No, It’s Not Just You: Why Time “Speeds up” as We Get Older’. Science in the News, 27 Mar. 2019, https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2019/no-not-just-time-speeds-get-older/.
3. Time Flies By Faster As We Get Older. Here’s Why. | U-M LSA Department of Psychology. https://lsa.umich.edu/psych/news-events/all-news/faculty-news/time-flies-by-faster-as-we-get-older–here-s-why-.html. Accessed 19 Nov. 2023.
4. ‘Why Does Time Seem to Speed Up with Age?’ Scientific American, 1 July 2016, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-time-seem-to-speed-up-with-age/.
5. ‘Why Our Sense of Time Speeds up as We Age — and How to Slow It Down’. NBC News, 26 Nov. 2018, https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/why-our-sense-time-speeds-we-age-how-slow-it-ncna936351.
6. Hamilton, David. ‘Why Time Speeds up as You Age’. David R Hamilton PHD, 17 Mar. 2022, https://drdavidhamilton.com/why-time-speeds-up-as-you-age/.