After providing all the funding for The Brain from Top to Bottom for over 10 years, the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction informed us that because of budget cuts, they were going to be forced to stop sponsoring us as of March 31st, 2013.

We have approached a number of organizations, all of which have recognized the value of our work. But we have not managed to find the funding we need. We must therefore ask our readers for donations so that we can continue updating and adding new content to The Brain from Top to Bottom web site and blog.

Please, rest assured that we are doing our utmost to continue our mission of providing the general public with the best possible information about the brain and neuroscience in the original spirit of the Internet: the desire to share information free of charge and with no adverstising.

Whether your support is moral, financial, or both, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen

Monday, 3 March 2014
The Various Speeds at Which We Perceive Time

Our perception of how fast time passes is amazingly subjective. When we are children, our summer vacations from school seem to stretch on forever. When we are grownups, we are often surprised to realize how long it has been since some major event occurred—Hurricane Katrina was over eight years ago, and the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl almost 28 years ago!

Thus we frequently underestimate or overestimate elapsed time. But what are the factors that push our estimates in one direction or the other? Are there some time scales that are affected and others that are not? Are there certain areas of the brain that are associated with the way we estimate time?

Neuroscientists already have a fairly good idea of the role that the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus plays in circadian rthythms, which cause many human biological cycles to have a duration of around 24 hours. And we have some data suggesting that the central grey nuclei and their circuits that use dopamine as a neurotransmitter also play a role in how we perceive time. But we still know very little about this fascinating topic, which Claudia Hammond addresses in her recent book entitled Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception.

One thing is certain: our perception of time varies. It is constructed by the brain and influenced by our past experiences, our state of mind, and what we are doing at the moment. If you’re depressed or doing work that is boring, the seconds drag by interminably. But if you’re having a fantastic conversation whiledriving somewhere with a friend, two hours on the freeway may seem like only half an hour.

Things are not always that simple, however. For example, in what Hammond calls the “holiday paradox”, when you’retravelling abroad for a few weeks, the days seem to fly by, but once you get home, it feels like you’vebeen away forever. According to Hammond, this paradox involves two opposing effects: the fascinating novelty of travelling abroad speeds up your perception of time, and the many new memories that you have formed make you feel like a long time has passed when you get back.

This latter phenomenon may also at least partly explain the commonly reported experience that the years go by faster as one grows older. Often, as people age, their lives become more stable and routine. Hence the number of new experiences that they have in any given amount of time decreases, which may accelerate their subjective perception of time accordingly.

Being aware of these phenomena may give us some for manipulating our own perceptions of time. Sleeping in until the afternoon on Saturdays may be one way to decompress, but it may not be the best way to put some distance between yourself and your job. If instead, you do something brand-new on Friday night, and continue with some more, different activities on Saturday, then you’ll have a better chance of feeling that you’ve left the preceding work week far behind you by the time Sunday arrives.

i_lien Does life speed up as you get older?
i_lien Claudia Hammond: Time frame of mind
i_rec Claudia Hammond website
a_his Aging and the speed of time

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