Time flies when you’re having fun, but why? It’s curious if you think about it. Someone whose visual perception was affected by enjoyment would seem rather unusual but the fact that our ability to judge time changes dramatically when we enjoy ourselves seems perfectly unremarkable.
A recent article in the scientific journal Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society attempts to answer exactly this question by reviewing the evidence for the curious link between emotion and time perception.
One of the greatest paradoxes in the field of time psychology is the time‚Äìemotion paradox. Over the last few decades, an increasing volume of data has been identified demonstrating the accuracy with which humans are able to estimate time. Confronted with this amazing ability, psychologists have supposed that humans, as other animals, possess a specific mechanism that allows them to measure time…
However, under the influence of emotions, humans can be extremely inaccurate in their time judgements (Droit-Volet & Meck 2007). For example, the passage of time seems to vary depending on whether the subject is in an unpleasant or pleasant context. It drags when being criticized by the boss but flies by when discussing with our friends. That is the time‚Äìemotion paradox: why given that we possess a sophisticated time measurement mechanism, are we so inaccurate in our temporal judgements when experiencing emotions?
The article is full of studies that found surprising ways in which our time perception is distorted: by the emotional expression on other people’s faces or by the age of people we meet (older people slow time, younger people quicken it).