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Why Your Perception of Time Can Change

People often say that time flies when you’re having fun, but does it really? What’s the science behind our perception of time?

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The Neural Substrates of Subjective Time Dilation

“We performed an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, while subjects viewed a stream of five visual events, all of which were static and of identical duration except the fourth one, which was a deviant target consisting of either a looming or a receding disc.”

Is subjective duration a signature of coding efficiency?

“We suggest that such duration illusions appear to parallel the neural phenomenon of repetition suppression, and we marshal evidence for a new hypothesis: the experience of duration is a signature of the amount of energy expended in representing a stimulus, i.e. the coding efficiency. This novel hypothesis offers a unified explanation for almost a dozen illusions in the literature in which subjective duration is modulated by properties of the stimulus such as size, brightness, motion and rate of flicker.”

Does Time Really Slow Down during a Frightening Event?

“Observers commonly report that time seems to have moved in slow motion during a life-threatening event. It is unknown whether this is a function of increased time resolution during the event, or instead an illusion of remembering an emotionally salient event. Using a hand-held device to measure speed of visual perception, participants experienced free fall for 31 m before landing safely in a net.”

Aging and the speed of time

“Correlational and experimental methods provide evidence relevant to seven theories of humans’ general impressions of the speed of time, including theories of the purported subjective acceleration of time with aging. A total of 1865 adults from two countries, ranging in age from 16 to 80, reported how fast time appears to pass over different spans of time.”
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