Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Does Time Slow In Times of Crisis?

A few years ago, I read an article in Discover magazine referencing an experiment suggesting the brain perceives time more slowly during a shocking event (something many of us suspect). To show this, the experimenters set up a device that very quickly flashed numbers, and had volunteers watch it as they fell backwards from a tower (they had a bungee cord attached to their ankles or something). Normally, you wouldn’t be able to read the numbers because they flashed so quickly. But when falling, subjects could actually describe the numbers they saw.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find this article online. And that’s too bad because I just
read a piece at LiveScience.com that contradicts it.

In the LiveScience article, they reference the falling experiment described above, but contest that none of the volunteers could read the numbers on the device, called a perceptual chronometer. However, I did find
an article at the BBC where someone in freefall made out a 98 on a perceptual chronometer when the real number was 96. Close enough to call? Not really. We need more data!

Another possible reason that time seems to slow during times of crisis is explained in the LiveScience piece. According to researchers, when an emergency breaks out, the part of your brain known as the amygdale kicks into high gear. When this happens, “an extra set of memories” causes “richer and denser memories.” And according to the experts, “the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took."

So why does the last hour of work seem to drag on for four or five hours? That’s a mystery for another post.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.