Why does our perception of time change

perception: Pandemic changes the perception of time

Time is racing when you are having fun. In this light, the lockdown - week after week with no distractions with care responsibilities in the home office - seemed like an eternity. On the other hand, the time seems to have passed by: It's already July, six months are over, but everything still revolves around Covid-19. Ahead of us is a time of uncertainty that nobody knows how long it will last.

During the lockdown, the measures to combat the pandemic had a massive impact on everyday life. Children couldn't go to school. People worked from home, friends and relatives were not allowed to see each other. "Such serious changes let the environment experience differently," emphasizes Ruth Ogden from John Moores University in Liverpool, UK. For her study, published in the journal "Plos One", she asked 600 people in Great Britain between April 7th and 30th how quickly the lockdown passed for them.

Time elapses linearly according to the position of the sun. The subjective time experience of people, on the other hand, depends on how intensely we have an experience and what feelings we associate with it. Experiments in a closed nuclear bunker or in self-isolation show that the subjective perception of time can deviate from normality. Scientists also assume that the minutes seem to flow by quickly when something is fun, while when they are bored they drag on into the seemingly endless. It is also confirmed that demanding cognitive tasks influence the perception of time. "But whether socially atypical periods change the feelings about the environment and thus the perception of the passage of time has not yet been investigated", the research team explains its approach.

Everyday life changes the experience

With the help of an online form, Ogden and her colleagues asked the study participants about their subjective perception of time, their state of mind and personal circumstances during the blocking of contacts. The daily and weekly routine, the perceived everyday stress and satisfaction with the extent of social interaction also had to be stated. The result: For more than 80 percent of the participants, the perception of time was distorted compared to normal during the lockdown. For older people who were either more stressed or suddenly less busy, and who suffered from a lack of social contact, time seemed to pass more slowly than usual. For younger people who say they have sufficient social contact, it seemed to flow faster. This was true both for individual days and for entire weeks.

"The results show that significant changes in everyday life have a significant impact on our perception of the passage of time," emphasize Ogden and her colleagues: "In general, the lockdown for young people with more social contact passed faster." In summary, it can be said that the time when people with more social contact, either in the household or via social media, were banned from contact was more urgent, while it was protracted for those with little contact.

Even for those who were challenged more than before at the height of the crisis - for example parents working from home, employees in systemically important professions or those who had to cope with demanding tasks - time seemed to fly by, regardless of whether they were young or old. These people are probably also among those who are quite amazed that it is already July.

The lockdown will also appear interesting in retrospect. Previous studies show that older people tend to perceive a period of ten years in retrospect to be shorter than younger people because they fix the period at the highlights. For them, the few weeks of contact restrictions, which naturally offered few highlights - could feel like an eternity.