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Being in nature changes our overall perception of time

In the whirlwind of contemporary urban life, where the seconds tick away unyieldingly, the adage “time is money” has never felt more poignant. Amidst this relentless march through the minutes and hours that comprise our perception of time, a new study sheds light on a potential sanctuary from the temporal storm: nature.

Our days, segmented by the relentless ticking of the clock, seem to rush by, leaving us grappling with a pervasive sense of time scarcity.

This exploration highlights the stress-inducing tempo of city life and proposes that immersion in nature and natural settings could recalibrate our internal clocks, offering a healthier grasp on time’s elusive flow.

Ticking differently: The fluidity of time perception

At the heart of this investigation is the understanding that time perception is inherently subjective, influenced by a tapestry of cognitive processes including attention, memory, and emotion. Dr. Ricardo Correia, an Assistant Professor at the University of Turku, Finland, illuminates this complexity.

“Time perception in humans is highly subjective and regulated by a complex interaction of factors related to attention, memory, emotions and physical status. As an example, time may seem like it is standing still while stuck in traffic on the way to meet a friend, and then it may fly by quickly while having fun together,” Correia notes.

“Living in cities and everything it entails puts a strain on the processes that influence how we perceive time. In contrast, nature is known to have a restorative effect for humans and may help us to recover a more balanced sense of time,” he says.

Green hours: Nature’s pause button

Correia’s research, published in the journal People and Nature by the British Ecological Society, dives into the scientific literature to unravel the nuances of how natural environments influence human time perception. The findings are twofold, touching on both the duration and perspective of time.

First, there’s the phenomenon of temporal duration, which refers to how we feel and understand time going by. Studies show that when we spend time in cities or nature, it feels different.

When we’re in nature, it feels like time goes slower, and we think we’ve been there longer than we really have. This makes us feel like we are “gaining time” and that we have more “time” to enjoy things.

Nature experiences make us feel less like we’re always in a hurry. This contrast is stark against the backdrop of urban life, where time often feels fleeting and insufficient, as if we’re always in a hurry.

Temporal expansion: How nature stretches time

Moreover, Correia uncovers a shift in temporal perspective when individuals move from cityscapes to landscapes.

This perspective encompasses our mental journey through time — from reminiscing about the past to planning for the future.

Nature, it seems, facilitates a smoother transition between these temporal states, promoting a more balanced and positive outlook.

This is particularly relevant in today’s fast-paced world, where a singular, negative focus on time can lead to detrimental behaviors and impact mental well-being.

Perspective shift: Nature’s time travel

“Put together, the existing evidence strongly suggests that nature experiences play an important role in regulating and maintaining a healthy sense of time, and I think the impact of nature on human well-being should be better recognized,” affirms Dr Ricardo Correia.

“Furthermore, we lack detailed information about which elements of nature or nature experiences regulate our time perception the most. Developing a better understanding of these aspects can provide important information that helps us to design our cities and parks so that they boost our collective well-being,” Correia concludes.

Reclaiming time: The future of urban well-being

This knowledge is pivotal, not just for enhancing individual well-being, but for informing the design of our urban environments — making cities and parks not just spaces of habitation, but havens for our temporal well-being.

In summary, embracing nature’s rhythms emerges as a transformative strategy to mend our fractured relationship with time, especially within the relentless pace of urban environments.

Dr. Ricardo Correia’s research underscores the profound impact that natural environments have on our perception of time, offering a sense of expansion and a more balanced perspective that contrasts sharply with the time scarcity experienced in city life.

By integrating these insights into the design of our urban spaces, we are able to enhance individual well-being while crafting communities that thrive on a healthier, more harmonious temporal foundation.

More about human time perception and nature

As discussed above, human time perception is a fascinating subject that reveals how we experience and understand the passing of time. Unlike the constant tick of a clock, our internal sense of time can stretch and compress, influenced by various factors including emotions, activities, and our environment.

The fluid nature of time

Time perception isn’t fixed — it’s fluid and subjective. When we’re engaged in enjoyable activities, time seems to fly by.

Conversely, when we’re bored or anxious, minutes can feel like hours. This variability shows that our perception of time is deeply connected to our mental and emotional states.

Factors influencing time perception

Several factors play a crucial role in how we perceive time. Attention, for instance, significantly impacts our time awareness.

When we focus intently on a task, we might lose track of time, experiencing what’s known as ‘flow’ state. Emotions also influence time perception; joyful experiences make time seem shorter, while negative emotions can make it drag.

Role of age in time perception

Interestingly, age affects how we perceive time. As we grow older, time seems to speed up.

This phenomenon is often attributed to the relative nature of time; as we age, each year represents a smaller fraction of our lives, making it feel shorter.

Time perception and health

Understanding time perception can have health implications. High stress levels, often linked with a distorted sense of time, can lead to health issues.

Learning to manage our perception of time, perhaps by incorporating mindfulness or relaxation techniques, can improve well-being.

Impact of technology

In today’s digital age, technology also influences our time perception. The constant bombardment of information can make time seem to pass quickly, contributing to a sense of time scarcity.

Balancing technology use with time spent in nature or disconnected activities can help restore a healthier time balance.

In summary, human time perception is a complex interplay of psychological, emotional, and environmental factors. By understanding how these elements affect our sense of time, we can take steps to enhance our well-being, reduce stress, and live more present, fulfilled lives.

Recognizing the subjective nature of time encourages us to appreciate every moment, knowing that our perception shapes our reality.

The full study was published in the journal People and Nature.


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