Time Flies When We Do the Same Things

    Cognitive psychologists have established that the feeling of time speeding up as we grow older is a time perception phenomenon common across cultures and ages. In a study from Cinch Valley College in Virginia, scientists asked two groups of people—young adults between 19 and 24, and older adults between 60 and 80—to note when they thought three minutes had passed. On average, the younger group was accurate, making a note at the 3:03 mark. Older adults thought that three minutes had passed nearly 40 seconds after the fact.

    On the day-to-day scale, these findings about time perception are merely fodder for adages about watched pots. But zooming out, the situation seems more dire: According to University of Cincinnati studies from the 1970s, the rate of “life speeding up” is so pronounced that, at 20, most of us have already subjectively experienced half our lives, meaning the rest will pass by in an ever-speeding blur. It’s existentially horrifying to consider that, at 21, my experienced life may be half over, and yet the major highlights from the past few years are such fascinating events as moving off campus, and getting an A in the class I never went to.

    The generally accepted explanation for this finding is that unfamiliar experiences make the brain work harder creating deeper impact and making time seem slower. Since childhood (and freshman year) is full of “firsts,” these years seem to stretch forever as first play date is followed by first sleepover game is followed by first kiss (and first class is followed by first roommate fight is followed by first “getting stranded at a party,” though maybe not in that order). But as we age, our “firsts” become far and few in-between, so everything starts to feel more automated and, therefore, faster.

    Until physicists step up their game, there’s no real way to slow time so for now, the Band-Aid solution is altering our perception to make our lives feel longer. In other words, there are plenty of cheesy reasons to try new things, but given that saying yes to late-night adventures that cross three different cities (been there, in an experience I now call “the day without a night”) may be the only way to extend our lives, there’s little reason to stay inside. Happy Week One.

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