Revealed: Why time slows down as we age



By NewsGram Staff Writer

Passage of time is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes, it flies-by and other times it drags interminably. For some, time can race and yet for others it can be a stagnant pond. However it might tick off, it is undeniable that time puzzles all.

There is a huge gulf of difference between time (real) as measured by clocks and our own sense of quantification. Eventually, we are the makers of our sense of time.

Deducing Time

By using predictable recurring events occurring naturally, such as day and night and repetition of seasons, humans have created reliable instruments to measure time. To mark their passage, we use clocks and calendars.

Apart from external formulations, we also seem to possess an internal timepiece, one that regulates our circadian (day/night) rhythms and allows us to register the duration of particular events.

The representations stored in our memory use the pacemaker to compare the length of each new event, thereby building up a knowledge bank of what each second, minute or an hour feels like. The development is central to our brain’s ability of registering short durations and transforming them into an understanding of the flow of time across the lifespan.

Still, however, our internal pacemaker does not always keep time as accurately as our external instruments.

Our personal perceptions of time are determined by the physical state, mood and the extent of our focus. For example. when we are concentrating, time appears to pass by slowly, Ditto when we are bored. On the other hand, when our attention is divided (particularly during multi-tasking), time flows by swiftly.

Another factor which influences the perception of time is the emotional quality of an event. Negative emotions such as sadness, depression have the ability to slow down time, as is the case with fear. Joy, fun and frolic have the counter-effect of speeding-up time.

Similarly, age has a lot to do with how we perceive time. Aged people, specifically those above the age of 60 often experience variability of time. Even as days stretch longer, festivities such as Christmas appear nearer and faster.

Causes behind differing time perception

As we age, a number of cognitive processes such as dividing attention between different tasks and concentrating on a particular job change, thereby giving rise to anomalies in time perception.

Also, the frame of reference for the duration of events changes with time. In this respect, there is a thought that the perception of time is in proportion to the length of our lifespan, a theory known as the “proportional theory”.

The theory posits that as we age time begins to feel relatively short as compared to our lifespan. For instance, a 70-year-old man may feel time passing quickly in relation to a teenager who is  15-years-old.

Yet, the theory does not fully explain how we visualize movement of time from second-to-second and day-to-day.

According to scientists, the clarity of our memories is believed to mould our experience of time. The past and other historic events are used for achieving a sense of self-existence across time.

“Reminiscence bump”, the decade between ages 15 and 25 associated with an increase in self-defining memories is the period when most of our vivid experiences occur. As older people move further away from this critical period in their lives, the memory cluster also speeds-up with age.

Clinical disorders such as autism and attention-deficit-hyperactivity are also frequently associated with problems in estimating time intervals. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s also lead to difficulty in time travel to the past.

The answer to solving the problem of differing time perception perhaps lies in strengthening cognitive abilities particularly memory and attention. Meditation and mindfulness can help us in being in the here and now, slowing down the fast moving pace of time.