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Why Time is Flying During COVID-19

Article by Behavioural Sassonomics


When you look back at your time in lockdown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, has it felt like time has flown by? You’re not alone. The similarity in our day to day has led to the creation of fewer new memories, making our judgements of time feel like it’s passed very quickly. Here are a few tips on what to do to slow it down.


Ask yourself the following question: has the time felt like it passed slowly or quickly?



If you feel like time has flown by, you aren’t alone. But why?

Many of us have experienced considerable amounts of boredom in lockdown. Taken away from the normal hustle and bustle, forced to amuse ourselves in ways reserved for the occasional sick day at home. 

Conventional wisdom holds that time appears to go faster when having fun, slow down when we’re bored. But then… THIS:



Why?


THE PASSAGE OF TIME IS SUBJECTIVE 

How we feel time doesn’t always line up with what the clock says. Some philosophers have even suggested we perceive time in proportion to the total time we’ve been alive. Have a discussion with anyone on the topic and surely you’ll find some difference in your respective perceptions of time.


WE ESTIMATE THE PASSAGE OF TIME TWO WAYS (HOW FAST IT FEELS RIGHT NOW VS. HOW FAST IT FELT WHEN WE LOOK BACK ON IT).


We evaluate our sense of time passage two ways. The first is prospectively – as in, judging how fast time feels to be passing right now. The second is retrospectively – as in, how fast did a particular period of time feel like it passed?


Researchers have suggested that these two different ways of judging the passage of time are the results of two different cognitive mechanisms. Prospective judgements of time passage are linked to attention; what impacts your perception of time passage is both the extent to which you had to ramp up your attention in advance of the time period being judged, as well as the extent to which your attention was disrupted. On the other hand, retrospective judgements of time are impacted by memory; time feels shorter or longer depending on how much space in your memory is occupied from the time period in question (i.e. the more memories you create in a given amount of time, the longer it will feel to you).