Frontiers of time perception

mans_watch.jpgBBC Radio 4 science programme Frontiers examines the psychology and neuroscience of time perception and considers how the sense of time can be warped when we’re put under stress.

In one part, the programme talks to psychologist David Eagleman who’s been running experiments with people doing ‘SCAD diving‘ – an activity where you jump free-fall off a 50 metre crane into a waiting net below.

He asks participants to try and judge time during the jump to see whether the stress of the situation genuinely affects people’s time perception – in an attempt to understand if things really go ‘in slow motion’ during emergency situations.

When a person’s life is in danger, a phenomenon known as ‘time-dilation’ can occur. This is when, during a car crash for example, time seems to slow down or become frozen.

In these cases the body’s internal clock speeds up when facing a potential catastrophe, so that it can take in more information more quickly and function more effectively in an emergency.

This is also a phenomenon actively sought by elite sportspeople, when they get ‘in the zone’.

Some of the chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine, can affect our perception of time. Deficiencies in these chemicals can lead to brain disorders.

In today’s technological age, the body’s natural clocks are being hijacked by timetables, schedules and diaries. By paying more attention to our watches, rather than our internal clocks, could we be losing touch with time as it should be perceived?

Link to Frontiers special on time perception.
realaudio of programme.

3 Comments

  1. Posted May 18, 2006 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    This distortion does not just happen during life-and-death situations.
    Have you ever been driving on the freeway for some time. Then drive off to a local side street only to find driving at the speed limit is like walking? Or spent 5 minutes standing in a line at the bank during your lunch hour, only to have it feel like 10 or even 20 minutes?
    And with the right behavioural training – you can turn it on at will…

  2. Posted May 18, 2006 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    What synchronicity! I just attended a wonderful guest lecture by David Eagleman yesterday. He is doing some incredible work. I don’t think he’s had much luck with the SCAD diving experiments, however; from his talk yesterday it sounds like perceptual time is distorted only in retrospect.
    What I like most about his work is that he’s able to take “illusions” to the next level. I mean, who heard of “time illusions” before this guy?!? Very, very interesting.

  3. Posted May 19, 2006 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    Time can be distored by the mind, because it’s all in the mind. [it's memory] I’ve held the impression for quite a while now that time does not exist, period. It is merely the “memory of motion” Which easily. explains why it’s relative.
    So yes, I’m saying Time Travel is not possible, because there is no Time.


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