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Time Warped

Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception

By Claudia Hammond
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  • Contains 13 key ideas
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Time Warped by Claudia Hammond

Time Warped (2012) is about that enduring mystery: our perception of time. Using research from the fields of neuroscience, biology and psychology, Claudia Hammond investigates the many reasons why, on one day, time appears to pass rapidly, while on another, it seems to grind to a halt. In addition, Time Warped suggests ways in which we can control our individual experience of time.

Key idea 1 of 13

Although time runs at a constant speed, our perception of it is affected by different factors.

Have you ever wondered why time seems to drag on endlessly one day, while the next day it appears to fly by?

What's behind this strange phenomenon?

In short, our perception: While the flow of time itself doesn’t vary, our perception of it does.

So what factors influence this perception?

Firstly, our emotions. For example, when we’re afraid, we process all sense data – what we see, hear, smell, taste and feel – more thoroughly. When we process more information in a given period of time than usual, time seems to slow down.

This phenomenon was tested by neuroscientist David Eagleman, who intentionally terrified his (willing) participants by throwing them off a skyscraper roof (don’t worry, they were wearing safety harnesses). The participants' fear caused their brains to process information in far greater detail, and consequently, time seemed to decelerate.

The second factor in “time warping” is memory: the more memories we make, the more slowly time seems to pass. Furthermore, if we're experiencing a lot of stress, our senses are heightened, so we tend to make more memories.

For example, imagine that you despise public speaking yet you're obligated to give a five-minute presentation. When you're finally up on that stage, you'll probably feel highly stressed. That stress will cause you to “record” the event in great detail, making a lot of memories – e.g., of the faces of the people in the front row.

The result? Those five minutes will seem like an eternity.

Finally, even something as mundane as body temperature can affect our time perception.

Take psychologist Hudson Hoagland’s wife, who was bedridden with flu. Hoagland nursed his wife attentively, and didn't leave her alone for longer than a few minutes at any one time. Nevertheless, she complained that he was gone for much longer periods.

Curious about her apparently warped sense of time, Hoagland performed an experiment which demonstrated that the higher his wife's fever, the more quickly a minute seemed to pass for her.

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