New study explains why time flies when we're having fun

From the age-old saying, we all know what happens to time when we are having fun.

When we engage with new and exciting experiences or have lots of fun generally, time goes quickly. Whereas when we are bored, stressed or anxious, time feels like it’s dragging on.

Well, it seems experts have done a little digging into why time passes differently in various situations.

A new study, from scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that time-sensitive neurons in our brains get ‘worn out’ from certain tasks. As a result, this affects our perception of time.

The research – which has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience – explains that neurons in the ‘supramarginal gyrus’ part of the brain (AKA in the parietal lobe, located at the top, towards the back) become tired when they’re repeatedly exposed to a different stimulus for a fixed duration. But, because neurons in the other parts of the brain continue business as usual, our perception is skewed.

The study looked at brain scans of 18 men and women aged between 18-27. Participants were first shown a grey circle for a set length of time. After they had completed this 30 times, they were shown a test stimulus for different amounts of time and were asked to guess how long it lasted. 

If their grey circle was on the screen for a long period of time, individuals were more likely to underestimate the duration of the second stimuli, whereas if their grey circle lasted a short amount of time, they were more likely to overestimate.

Results found that being shown a grey circle 30 times in a row led to the participants’ neurons becoming fatigued – so they were likely to experience a skewed perception of time. 

In other words, if they were bored (from looking at the grey circle for a long period), time would feel slower to them, whereas if they were less bored (from looking at it for less) time would seem faster.

Ultimately, it’s all down to those neurons in our brain changing our perception of reality.

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