Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Warping of Time

I can think of a number of incidents (well, usually accidents) where time itself seemed to slow down. Where something appeared inevitable (like an oncoming car about to make impact), but at the same time it seemed to take forever for that thing to get to the point of contact (the collision). I used to think that the brain just did this to help us make better judgments in life-threating situations, allowing us to avoid accidents because we felt as though we had the time to act. But according to a recent study this is not the case...


Instead, such time warping seems to be a trick played by one's memory. When a person is scared, a brain area called the amygdala becomes more active, laying down an extra set of memories that go along with those normally taken care of by other parts of the brain.

"In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and
denser memories," Eagleman explained. "And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took."

Eagleman added this illusion "is related to the phenomenon that time seems to speed up as you grow older. When you're a child, you lay down rich memories for all your experiences; when you're older, you've seen it all before and lay down fewer memories. Therefore, when a child looks back at the end of a summer, it seems to have lasted forever; adults think it zoomed by."

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