What exactly is time? Although there are many definitions out there, the concept of time is not easily understood. Oxford Dictionary defines time as, “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” Other definitions, such as one written by Merriam Webster say that time is, “the measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues.” Wikipedia’s interpretation states, “time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, to the future.’
Although time is a fixed concept, meaning that it neither speeds up nor slows down, our perception of time can always change. Time perception is explained as a person’s own individual experience of time and its passing.
Unlike other systems in the body, the act of perceiving time cannot be traced to any one part of the brain. The parietal lobe, hippocampus, cerebellum, and prefrontal cortex are all believed to be involved in the process. The parietal lobe is responsible for interpreting sensory information coming from the body. The cerebellum then uses this and other information to administer movements throughout the body. The Hippocampus is associated with spatial memory. It can also detect when new information is entering the brain.
Planning and decision-making functions are assisted by the prefrontal cortex which also plays a role in the development of a person’s personality. Likewise, it is believed that children and infants don’t have a mature sense of time because their prefrontal cortex and hippocampus have not yet been fully developed. The development of the prefrontal cortex results in greater time sensitivity.
There are many theories that try to explain how our bodies keep track of time, one being the working of our internal clock. It can be described as neural processes in the body that act like a clock. Warren Meck, a neuroscientist at Duke University believes that our internal clock works as a system where a collection of neurons located near the base of the brain release neurochemicals that react and trigger the prefrontal cortex. Another scientist, Howard Eichenbaum, claims that neurons located in the hippocampus fire pulses through the brain at certain intervals.
These pulses work like a clock and help us estimate certain periods of time and time passing. Scientists also believe that our body has the ability to create many different clocks that work independently, but at the same time. Depending on the context of the situation, the brain will most likely depend on one. This ability allows us to perform many tasks at once. A man named Gustav Theodor Fechner claims that what we perceive is not time itself, but instead changes in the flow of time.
The distortion of your perception of time is called temporal perception. When this happens, the speed of our internal clocks changes and can make time speed up, slow down or even make moments in time appear to move backwards. Your sense of the passing of time can be altered by many factors, including the language you speak in. research has shown that the way people think of time are in distance or volume. People who are fluent in languages like English or Dutch usually describe a period of time using words like “long” or “short”, adjectives used when speaking of distance. On the other hand, people who speak Greek or Spanish usually think with measures of volume, using words like “big” or “small” to describe a passage of time. Individuals with disabilities such as ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, or depression can also have an impaired perception of time.
Another reason that time will mentally slowdown is when faced with a new experience. When your brain is given too much information to process at once, it will slow down time in order to rearrange and understand it. If the information is something you are already familiar with, this process is much faster and doesn’t affect your perception very much. This is why time seems to pass by slower during a new experience or life-threatening situation, it appears to last longer than it really does because your brain has to slow down in order to process all of the information hitting it at once. If your brain is left without any stimulation for a long period of time, it will try to monitor the time that is passing, making it seem slower because you are aware of the time.
According to scientists, as you grow older, time usually begins to speed up. This is said to be because of many reasons. Some say it is because each moment is a smaller percentage of our lives. A year for a 55-year-old passes 2 ¼ times faster than it does for an 11-year-old. Likewise, one year for a 10-year-old is only 1/10 of their lifespan whereas it is 1/30 of the life of a thirty-year-old. Older individuals also have less new experiences than young kids and adults who are starting to learn more about life. As explained earlier, time slows down during new experiences.
As you grow older you sometimes begin to fall into routines, and so time begins to pass by more quickly. Forward telescoping is a phenomenon in which an individual’s memorable experiences or events that may have happened many years ago, seem as if they are fairly new. Ageing adults will most likely remember memorable experiences over routine ones as fewer memories stick over time. This makes the memories seem closer in time, due to the memory of the event being clearer in their minds. Therefore, filling time with memorable experiences can cause it to slow down.
Research has also discovered that middle aged and older individuals tend to overestimate the length of an interval of time while younger individuals tended to have underestimated the same length of time. Other studies have found that estimates of the length of a time interval doesn’t really appear to differentiate at all between older and younger brains. Instead of our perception of time changing, our memory of time changes. The psychological goals we set for ourselves as we grow, can also affect our memory of time. As we accomplish these goals, there are less novel or new experiences, make time seem to slow down.