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Why Your Brain’s Sense of Time Is So Elastic

Reprinted with permission from Quanta Magazine’s Abstractions blog.

New research finds that the subjective experience of time is linked to learning, thwarted expectations, and neural fatigue.Illustration by Olena Shmahalo / Quanta Magazine

Our sense of time may be the scaffolding for all of our experience and behavior, but it is an unsteady and subjective one, expanding and contracting like an accordion. Emotions, music, events in our surroundings and shifts in our attention all have the power to speed time up for us or slow it down. When presented with images on a screen, we perceive angry faces as lasting longer than neutral ones, spiders as lasting longer than butterflies, and the color red as lasting longer than blue. The watched pot never boils, and time flies when we’re having fun.

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