Time flies when you’re having fun – so the saying goes. Science has proven that this is more than a saying, however. Our brains really do process time differently when we’re engaged in different types of tasks.
There are six general types of tasks in which time seems to slow. These include extreme suffering and ecstasy, being under the threat of danger, boredom, an altered mental state (such as after taking psychedelic drugs), intense concentration, and learning a new task.
Why does time feel as though it stands still when we’re engaged in these tasks? No matter what we’re doing, each minute is still 60 seconds. What changes, according to Eckerd College professor Michael Flaherty, is “the density of human experience.” This refers to the volume of subjective and objective information carried in each second, minute, and hour.
The density of human experience is high when a lot is happening at once – for instance, in combat or emergency situations. It’s also high when boredom reigns. Although there is seemingly nothing going on while someone is waiting for a delayed flight, the person is concentrating on themselves, how stressed they are, and what’s going on around them in those circumstances.
When the density of experience is low, time seems to pass more quickly. Learning a new task is an excellent example of this. As we learn it, we must invest our full concentration – creating a high density of experience. Once the task has become familiar to us, it requires less concentration, which creates a lower density of experience. As a result, our perception is that “time flies.”
This type of brain function also serves to explain why months and even years seem to whiz by at an amazing speed. Unless something unusual happens to break up the time, people are amazed at how quickly the pages of the calendar seem to turn year after year.
By Dawn Henderson, Earth.com Staff Writer
Source: Michael Flaherty, Eckerd College