We’ve all experienced odd lapses in time, leading to that oh-so-familiar feeling of “where did that time go?” Whether it’s the drive home – the whole auto-pilot effect – or an entire year, new studies show that the brain picks and chooses what time it’s going to pay attention to.
So why exactly do some occurrences feel so close (or at the other end of the spectrum, so distant) even though they may have happened a year ago? Why does the sentiment “it feels like just yesterday” even exist? Well a few collaborators at some well-known business schools in the United States have published a study to attempt to answer this question (the full study was published mid-December in an online edition of Psychological Science).
A lot about the brain, scientifically speaking, is a grey matter (pun intended). Scientists still aren’t quite sure how exactly the brain keeps track of time, but the recent study entitled “1995 Feels So Close Yet So Far: The Effect of Event Markers on Subjective Feelings of Elapsed Time” at least attempts to shed a bit of light on the phenomenon.
The study finds that the brain has a surprisingly poor grasp on the longer intervals of time that pass uneventfully. This should come as no surprise to anyone with any down-time, the way the clock seems to creep at a dismal pace during bored periods. And it may be no surprise, either, that emotionally-charged events, such as a good first date or a really great vacation, seem as they occurred “just yesterday.”
In short, time that is punctuated by events that are noteworthy in any sense of the word feels longer because the brain is keeping a “better,” arguably more reliable track of time.
So beware of those New Year’s resolutions and how they can just sneak into the background without notice. If you find yourself feeling deflated at the end of 2010 because time just flew by and you failed to go to those spinning classes or didn’t apply to a new job, just know that your brain is responsible for that quick passing of time. It is precisely because those events didn’t occur that your brain just “forgot” all the time in-between.