Digesting that the first day of spring came and passed was a toughie—and not just because the park outside my apartment still looks like the forest from the Blair Witch Project. Rather it’s because of how fast entire seasons—and thus, years—seem to fly by. Honestly, wasn’t it just the holidays? Well, new research shows you’re not crazy—time does seem to be moving more quickly, but the reason why is kind of a downer. We’re all getting old, and our brain needs new viewing material.
The theory, recently published in European Review, hypothesized that as we get older, the speed at which we process new images slows down, because our seasoned psyches are simply processing fewer new images. As the web of nerves and neurons grows with age, it gives more resistance to the flow of electrical signals. That negatively impacts the rate at which fresh images are acquired and processed with age. Basically, we’re seeing less new stuff than we used to but within the same brackets of time, and this lower density of stimulus makes time feel as if it’s passing faster.
“People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth,” lead researcher Adrian Bejan, PhD and professor of mechanical engineering at Duke, tells Science Daily. “It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful, it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.”
“People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth. It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful, it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.” —mechanical engineering professor Adrian Bejan, PhD
Consider how babies are always moving their eyes around quickly: That’s because they’re acquiring all this new information, and they have to do it fast. Meanwhile, adult brains doesn’t have to relearn new images—like the Starbucks on the corner you go to three times a week or the Starbucks three blocks away you go to two times a week. The nerves and neurons have seen these surfaces a gajillion times already, meaning our lives are blandly passing us by at fast-forward speed.
So now that you’re either bummed or low-key panicking about your life passing you by, you might be wondering if there’s any way to slow down time. Well, that one terrible Adam Sandler movie suggesting a magical remote as a solution aside, my hot take is that now is the time to switch up your routine or your surroundings.
There’s a reason why it seems like time slows down when you’re traveling; it’s the element of novelty, supported by research termed “the oddball effect,” referenced by The Cut. In a 2004 experiment, the image of a shoe flashed on a monitor multiple times and the image of a flower just once. Subjects insisted that the flower was on the screen for much longer, simply because their brain took longer to process it once than it took to process the shoe several times. This is how we can trick our brain to savor the moments we’re in—and honestly, it’s sound advice. I get it if you don’t have the trust fund for an Eat, Pray, Love thing, but exploration doesn’t always involve going to the ends of the Earth.
So this spring, seek out your flower! Try a Sri Lankan restaurant. Take a spontaneous day trip. Find a new coffee shop (Starbucks will always be there for times you want to cater to your comfort in sameness!). Look, you can’t stop aging and you can’t stop your brain from doing what it biologically must. But you can slow down your perception of time by discovering new environments, and painting your experiences in different hues. Go see new things and enjoy feeling like you’re living more and louder and longer.
by: MARY GRACE GARIS, MARCH 21, 2019
March 25, 2019 at 8:49 am
Great theory! This is very important for those with mental illness as well. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut doing the same things every day. Forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones will really help with this.
March 30, 2019 at 2:05 pm
I totally agree. We should teach our children in school the art of mastering our Time.