By: Daniel Glaser | Gappy new year: our perception of the passage of time | Daniel Glaser | Neuroscience | The Guardian
Why does a boring party appear to last longer than it actually does? Daniel Glaser explains our emotional inner clock
Many of us will spend this evening waiting for midnight to arrive. Some families adopt a global perspective to get them through an extended social engagement. For example, with London-based friends with young children, we celebrate midnight on Tel Aviv time (two hours earlier). Wherever you’re based, studying the internal experience of time presents neuroscientific challenges – you cannot objectively read out someone’s subjective clock. But can emotional states alter our perception of the passage of time? Some years ago American writer and neuroscientist David Eagleman and colleagues set out to check whether, for example, extreme fear makes time slow down. Their subjects tried to distinguish rapidly changing digits on a type of wristwatch while free-falling from a 46m tower into a net. Despite this terrifying situation, their ability to separate closely spaced numbers on the display was not improved, as it would have been if their perception had been fundamentally stretched. Interestingly, with hindsight, subjects estimated the fall had taken significantly longer than it actually had. No different to recollecting a party that was a drag. Happy New Year’s Eve!
Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London