Episode 11 – Distorted sense of time: how is this possible?

Aleena and Janine investigate how the passage of time can often feel slower or faster even when, objectively, we know that time is always passing at a constant rate. Why do some days drag on while others disappear in a flash? How is it possible that things can feel like they are happening in slow motion during traumatic events? Aleena also shares the latest scientific experiments involving knives made out of human poo (yes, you read that right), and Janine has been questioning the reality of her very existence thanks to a certain YouTube video.

Mastering of this episode, plus intro and outro music, by the ever-talented Dr Adrian Diery.

What does the “oddball” experiment tell us about why time feels fast or slow?

In this series of lab-based studies, participants were exposed to a series of stimuli that were occasionally interrupted by something strikingly different – that’s the “oddball”. Even though the oddball was presented for the same amount of time as the other stimuli, participants typically report that the oddball lasted longer. Why? The effect seems to be about attention. When something different comes in, the brain has new information to process. This sudden onset of “cognitive work” creates an illusion of more time having passed than it really did…

There’s a cool article called “Why time feels so weird in 2020” that helps to demonstrate this effect with some interactive experiments on screen!

The passage of time during lockdown

This recent study focused specifically on time perception during the UK Covid-19 lockdown. The majority of participants experienced distortions in time perception during lockdown, but while one half felt that time passed more slowly, the other half felt it passed more quickly. How is this possible? Well, it’s complicated! There was a significant affect of age, where participants over 60 reported time passing more slowly than younger participants. There were also strong correlations with emotional state, where being more depressed and/or less satisfied with the lack of social connections led to time feeling slower; while being happier, busier and/or more connected socially led to time feeling faster. Time perception is clearly impacted by many factors and is a fascinating area of psychology.

What brought out our inner square?

Poo knives (yes, that’s what she said): them knives don’t work (sorry if you’re eating…). Aleena tells us about an old tale of an Inuit man having used his own frozen feces to manufacture a fully functioning knife. This got a bunch of anthropologists and archaeologists thinking: is this really possible? So they tested it out! Their controlled experiment suggests this story might be a bit of a pile (tehehe)… Aleena is thrilled to add that this study is fully accessible to the public, so you can read all the messy details on what they did and VIEW PICTURES* from the experiment online (yup –and you know you want to). Ahhh science. Don’t you just love it?

Janine recalls this life changing video from morn1415 which was first brought to her attention by IFL Science. We urge everyone to watch the video exploring the sizes of different objects in space. How do you feel after watching it? Comforted by the wonder of the universe… or utterly terrified and in the foetal position?! Let us know! Maybe we are just “cosmic dandruff” after all…

*Scroll down here for Appendix A. Supplementary data 🙂

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash

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