In my childhood, it seemed so strange. I felt it was so dumb when my relatives say how much I had grown. Now I spend my time constantly surprised by how the months and years fly by, I finally get what they mean. The summer holidays used to go on forever, but now summer is gone in a few weeks. Can it be seventeen years since leaving high school and 25 years since the 1996 cricket world cup, when I remember so clearly like it were last year?
It's not just me who feels like life is speeding up as they get older. Experiments have shown that our ability to measure time changes as we get older. When you ask a twenty-year-old and a seventy-year-old how many minutes have passed, the younger person gets it right, while the older person seems to be going a little faster.
A biologist in the USA, Robert B. Sothern, has been recording his temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and estimation of the passing of a minute five times a day for forty-five years. Even on vacation, he never misses a day. The main thing he's interested in is whether medical treatments' timing affects their efficacy, a theory that most researchers still don't believe, but his diligent self-study does tell us something about time perception that's extraordinary. He's getting older and his time estimation is getting less accurate.
Despite what it seems, it's not so easy to figure out how we judge time. Nowhere in the brain has anyone been able to find a single area dedicated to it. Even though we have a body clock to govern our 24-hour sleep/wake cycles, it doesn't do anything to estimate how much time has passed.
According to different medical conditions, at least four parts of the brain might play a role in time perception. It turns out that kids with Tourette's Syndrome are better at estimating intervals of just over a second than other kids, since they have to use the pre-frontal cortex behind the forehead to control their tics. Moreover, studies show that ADHD kids pass time really slowly when given time estimation tasks. Another study found that time perception is linked to the dopamine system in the brain. That means for these kids sitting still for five minutes could feel like a lot longer.
Are routine lifestyles to be blamed?
However, it appears that the myth that time seems to go faster in middle age isn't true. In fact, it depends on the timeframe you're considering. According to studies on time perception, midlife adults feel like the days and hours pass at a normal pace; it's the years that fly by.
Time usually feels smooth because these two perceptions match up, but sometimes it doesn't. A good example of this is aging. While we think days go by pretty fast, we're amazed by markers of time that tell us how fast months and years go by. As you get older, things get boring, so you don't have as many new experiences. We use the number of new memories we create to gauge how much time has passed, so an average week that doesn't loom large in the memory gives the illusion that time is speeding up.
If you want your weekend to go slowly, don't spend it watching TV and resting. Instead, fill it up with new experiences, and by Sunday night, it'll seem like a long weekend. But, we do have to figure out if we really want time to slow down. If you look at the circumstances where we know time goes slowly, they include having a high temperature, feeling rejected, and feeling depressed. Despite how frustrating or surprising it may seem, maybe if life seems to be speeding by, it's a good thing.