Why Does Time Fly as We Get Older?

Scientific American:

Another year; another Christmas around the corner.

The conversation around the watercooler these days has evolved into the annual “where has the time gone?” discussion—how quickly the neighborhood kids have become high school graduates; how our hot July beach vacations seem like they were just yesterday; and how we haven’t baked cookies or sent cards or bought gifts yet because time has just been flying by.

It’s become a common complaint—almost a joke—that time seems to whiz by faster and faster as we get older.

Of course, aging doesn’t grant us the power to disrupt the space-time continuum, so it’s not a real problem. But why do we perceive it to be?

In 2010, William Friedman (Oberlin College) and Steve Janssen (Duke University) expanded upon these findings. In this study, 49 undergraduate students and 50 older adults (aged 60-80 years) were given a list of twelve newsworthy events of the past decade and asked to rate a.) when the event occurred, and b.) how well they remembered each event. They also completed the same Likert scale as in Wittmann and Lehnhoff’s study to assess their perception of the speed of time.

While subjects in both age groups reported a good memory for all twelve events, young adults were more likely to underestimate age of the event. Furthermore, these individuals replicated Wittmann and Lehnhoff’s findings that while both age groups perceived short periods of time (i.e. hours, weeks, months) similarly, older adults reported that the last 10 years passed more quickly than young adults.

In an extension of this study published in July of this year, Friedman, Janssen, and Makiko Naka (Hokaido University in Japan) found that among those individuals who felt that they were currently experiencing significant time pressure, time was passing quickly on short time intervals (i.e. weeks, months). Those who felt time pressure over the past decade, on the other hand, felt that the previous ten years had passed in a flash.

Read the whole story: Scientific American

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