How to slow down time
Written by: Denise John, PhD
Published on: August 4, 2022
Photo courtesy of Brian Chorski
Why do some summer months go by, when February always seems to bring the most brutal speed? Why do our memories of certain weeks feel longer than others? Why do the best vacations make time feel measured differently than the time we spend at home?
Cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Martin Wiener, who studies how our brains perceive time and space, explains that while we experience time as a continuum – something linear count, having a beginning, a middle, and an end – we don’t always go through time at the same pace. Depending on what we focus on either the physical space we are in or the familiarity of the experience, it feels accelerated in some moments and slowed down at others.
Here are the key takeaways from our conversation with Wiener, in which we asked him to analyze the most fundamental (and surprising) ways our brains distort time.
1. Focus on time slowing it down. If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic, had your flight delayed, or even dared to look at a pot of boiling water, you’ve experienced the feeling of being dragged by time. Research shows that the more time you focus on, the slower time passes, which often happens when we’re bored or doing something we don’t want to do.
2. Distracting yourself from time increases speed. “The more distracted you are with time, the faster it will pass because you are not focused on the passage of time,” says Wiener.
3. Memories falsify time. When you look back in time, you perceive time differently. “When you recall a memory when a lot of things happened, even though it may have passed quickly, when you look back, it feels like it lasted longer than you did,” says Wiener. It’s like the holiday has passed, but when you recall it, it seems to have lasted longer, almost memory expanded.
The opposite is true when it comes to memories of times when nothing much happened, such as waiting in traffic or boarding an airplane. When you look back on those experiences, they may feel relatively brief.
4. Dopamine can affect timing. Scientists don’t really understand how the brain processes time, but new research suggests that dopamine, the neurotransmitter that’s stimulated when we’re feeling happy and rewarded, may play a role. some game. “Anything that increases dopamine tends to speed up our perception of time,” says Wiener. “While things that lower dopamine slow down our sense of time.”
5. Space affects the way we perceive time. Wiener said: “The larger the space, the slower time passes. This applies to the space you are in or the space (or distance) you move. Have you ever been tempted to get back on your way to work because your route is heavily trafficked, even though the GPS tells you the traffic route will get you there fastest? The lack of movement in space (and the focus on time) makes time in traffic seem to be moving more slowly. By taking the longer route, you may feel that less time passes than if you took the shorter route with traffic. Similarly, the way we move our bodies through space also changes our perception of time – time can feel like it’s moving faster if you’re dancing or jogging than if you’re sitting still.
6. Familiarity spans space and time contracts. The more familiar you are with something, like the route to work or walking to your favorite coffee shop, the shorter the time it takes to get there, but the longer the distance seems.
“The first time you take a road, it seems to take a long time but it’s not too far, in terms of distance,” says Wiener. “After you repeat this path over and over and become more familiar with it, eventually the amount of time spent with you will seem less, but the distance to get there will seem longer.” You can think about that on your next coffee run.
Researchers are still discovering how time is processed in the brain – what brain regions are activated, what mechanisms are required, what neurotransmitters and hormones are involved, etc. But our perception about time is just that: our perception. Experimenting with some of these time-shifting ideas can help you figure out how to speed up time during the dullest moments — and slow it down when you want a moment to last.
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This article is for informational purposes only, even if and notwithstanding the advice of doctors and other medical professionals. This article is not, nor is it intended as a substitute for, professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are those of experts and do not necessarily represent the views of goop.