Did you know you have a reminiscence bump? We remember more from our teens and twenties than from any other time in our lives. Why? “Because of novelty,” says Claudia Hammond in Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception. It’s during this time that most of us have our “first sexual relationships, first jobs, first travel without parents”. All this rich novelty of experience helps us pack away more memories, and it later feels like time passed more slowly back then.
But why do 10 minutes feel like forever when you’re waiting for a bus but like no time at all when you’re ice fishing in Antarctica? And why, in middle age, do the hours and days seem to pass by as usual while the months and years seem to rush by? How can some people wake up and know exactly what the time is? And why do some people with brain injuries lose the ability to imagine the future?
In response, Hammond says no specific part of the brain has been found to control our perception of time, but body temperature, emotions such as fear, anxiety and rejection, conditions such as ADHD and depression, and the novelty or complexity of an experience have all been found to play a role in our perception of time.
This book accompanies a series of radio programmes produced for BBC Radio 4. Much of the research is based on recent psychological studies, but some of the best parts of the book are interviews with people such as BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who lost track of time while spending four months as a hostage in Gaza, and Kiwi base-jumper Chuck Berry, for whom 10 seconds in free fall can feel like an eternity.
TIME WARPED: UNLOCKING THE MYSTERIES OF TIME PERCEPTION, by Claudia Hammond (Canongate $39.99).
Rebecca Priestley is the Listener’s science columnist and author of Mad on Radium: New Zealand in the Atomic Age.