Question of the Week

Does time go faster as you age?

Sun, 2nd Nov 2008

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Jared, Utah asked:

Iíve noticed as Iíve grown older that time feels like itís moving faster than when I was growing up. Is there any reason for this and what is it?



We put this to John Wearden, Professor of Psychology, Keele

The question posed is a simple question but it has a complicated answer and itís not a thing thatís been researched in any great detain unfortunately. The commonest anecdote seems to be a kind of paradoxical statement about time where older people report that hours seem to drag but the months pass very quickly. In other words time seems to pass rather slowly when theyíre experiencing it but in retrospect seems to have flashed past very quickly. How can this happen? The feeling that time passing Ė whether timeís passing quickly or slowly while youíre listening to me, for example, generally seems to be governed by the activities that occupy the time period. If youíre watching an exciting film, for example time seems to pass very quickly. If youíre in some very boring situation time seems to pass very slowly. SO when you look backwards over the day it seems very long when there are a lot of activities. Whereas if there are very few activities, particularly very few new activities, it may appear retrospectively very short. The time paradox in older people: both the slowness of time as experienced as it passes and the retrospective feeling that itís flashing past may be caused by a general tendency for older people to have fewer novel life experiences than they do when theyíre younger. That seems to account for both the apparently paradoxical aspects of time experienced in aging.


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Isn't this analogous to hand-cranked movie cameras...
If the cameraman turned the crank too quickly when recording, "over-cranked", the film would be in slow motion when projected at the normal rate.  Turning the crank too slowly, "under-cranking", would speed up motion when the film was projected at the normal rate.

The internal clock slowing with age is analogous to "under-cranking" and causes the perception of time passing to speed up.

RD, Tue, 28th Oct 2008

Hi Jarad, I've got a theory about this. Lets consider our opinions on the subject we held as six year olds.

Our earliest memories go back to the age of 2, maybe 1.5 years, right? Lets say we were 2 years old when we started our "conscious life experience" clock.

Since 6yrs - 2yrs = 4 yrs of memorable awareness, it could be argued all of us at the age of six, that the time span of 4 years is equal to a "Lifetime". Do you follow?

The year I was six, spring lasted forever and summer vacation went on and on. Halloween would never get here, and "How many days 'till Santa comes?!". The chronological distortions we suffered were not due to impatience; they were truly long periods of time to endure. The year I was 6 (don't forget, 4 years = a Lifetime) represents 1 quarter of my whole life! That is 25%!

So 25% of a six year old's "Lifetime" time, is represented by 1 year.

Now I'm 42. It is already the end of October! This year is flying by so fast! But my chronological measuring stick is longer. 25% of everything I know about a "Lifetime" is spread over 10 years! I perceive 1 year as a 6 year old perceives 5 weeks.

If there were a magic potion that kept me alive for 10000 years, I might perceive the last 10 years between my 9990th and 10000th birthday to whiz by as fast as a 15 minute coffee break seems to today.

Mike jysk, Wed, 29th Oct 2008

Firstly on the perception of the passage of time, there's two sides to it:
a) how fast time appears to be passing right now (typically fast if you're busy/enjoying yourself, slow if you're bored)
b) how fast the past year (or other extended period) has gone

Looking back, how fast the past year seems to have gone depends on how much variety you've had. If you've been stuck in a routine and doing little new, then last Christmas will seem like yesterday. Conversely if you've been on several holidays, quit a job, moved house, started a new job, had loads of variety in the new job, made lots of new friends, etc (ie lots of new stuff, lots of novelty) then last Christmas seems a lifetime ago.

At age 10, 1 year represents 10% of your life so far. Aged 50 1 year is only 2% of your life so far. Therefore, it would seem inevitable that when you're younger, one year contains vastly more new and memorable experiences than when you're much older, and therefore the years don't appear to fly by to the same extent.

Maybe we should measure age on a logarithmic scale to 'linearise' perception of time? techmind, Wed, 29th Oct 2008

To add to the mathematical ponderings of the two previous posts I would consider the fact that, in terms of brain function, every experience fed into the brain via the sensory system as well as all that input's 'digested'product, is stored and accessible to varying degrees.
As experience mounts we occupy our aware presence weighing the current inputs against the experienced (the stored/remembered). The time this takes is not available to awareness of anticipation of future expectation.
In childhood, much time is available to future anticipation and makes the present 'seem' to crawl whereas the older we grow the more the present is occupied relating the current input to the database -if you will- and inhibits awareness' access to the idleness of the blank state.
Hope I made myself clear. wannabe, Thu, 30th Oct 2008

...and why does a return journey seem to take less time than the outward leg? chris, Fri, 31st Oct 2008

would you clarify that Chris? wannabe, Sat, 1st Nov 2008

Familiarity? The route is less novel on the return trip?

Or, that outward journies are often full of anticipation and expection (and maybe some concern about the risk of being late). Time takes an age to pass when you're "looking forward" to something.

On the return journey you're brain is reviewing, analysing and filing the days' happenings - so you're more likely to be lost in thought... and suddenly find yourself at the terminus station or front door! techmind, Sat, 1st Nov 2008

I would think the mechanism to be similar Chris, awareness perception being modulated by experience; childhood experience dealing with the size of the database being one variety, preoccupation during anticipatory experience in the present being another; conscious awareness after all is but momentary expression of states, be they sensory inputs at a given moment or the memory assisted processing of previous inputs and the modulation of either by the emotional system. wannabe, Sat, 1st Nov 2008

It's all relative to a persons perspective!  Time moves to us according to our perception of it.  Like was said earlier, when you are young a set period of time, say a month, seems longer.  This is because that a single month makes up a larger portion of your life then a month does when you are older.  This carries on to the second question, a return trip seems longer only if you are less excited about the return trip.  For someone that is more excited about getting home then leaving home, the perception would be changed so that the return trip would seem shorter.  This of course carries to many things such as "Time flys while your having fun", or "a watched pot never boils".  It's all in our perception of time and how we relate to the passing of it.

Travis mobile_bob, Tue, 4th Nov 2008

My own theory is we are busier as adults!    The older we are the more we take on - and we are racing the clock!   

If you go into a retirement home and ask the residents about their day they will complain that time goes so slowly - they have less to do than when they used to home their own homes, jobs or businesses, also having a social life. Lynda, Sun, 9th Nov 2008

For anyone who has to get up for work it seems maddening that the time between alarm clock going off in the morning goes much faster than the time before lunch or leaving off time! Lynda, Sun, 9th Nov 2008

Nice one:)
Do you remember how immortal you were as young.
How time couldn't touch you, you had all the time in the world.
And getting old? Uhuh, no way, not me.

And then suddenly you wake up, slowly or fast, to the fact that you are... old.
And all those nagging about you needing to get ready for your pension makes life into a new and horrifying picture:)
Well, you're only as old as you feel, remember that.
And although memory changes with age, as well as other priorities that doesn't mean you're dead, does it?
But memory do change with age physically.
And perhaps sense of time too?
And then there is this awareness of 'times end' you get as you get old(er:)

yor_on, Tue, 11th Nov 2008

By (the Guest below) Sorry about the parsing "Name"; short on time. My "knee jerk" observation is: 'We're close to the end of the toilet paper roll' Bigger circles O vs o take less revolutions; ergo, seems slower. Thank you, I was here all week, hope you tried the veal. oh well.... But seriously tho folks, the way I've thought time going faster, at least in the last 5 years or so (now 59 y.o.), at least the way it makes sense to me, is: "Ever take a long car trip to a destination you and your honey never been before? i.e., Las Vegas from Ohio about 2000 miles. You get on the Interstate, head west on I-40, you're excited, 16 hours later you're in Amarillo, Tx looking for an unfamiliar Interstate exit for a cloud 6. Next day you think you can drive on through to Vegas....well you make it to Flagstaff, Az tired and ready to sleep. Next day you finaly make it to Vegas and hope you have the energy to give Vegas all your money because it took longer than you thought to get to Vegas (it didn't look that far on the map did it) on top of that you missed that last exit you needed to exit because you're unfamiliar with Vegas area. STAY WITH ME NOW.... Now, you timed your money just right that you wanted to give Vegas 1 week later. Yawn, Up, get in the car, get on the Interstate east toward good ole Ohio. You're out of money, the time spent on the vacation has made you tired, hope you have enough energy to get home, why did you drive it anyway going through your mind...You don't stop at Hoover dam and a couple other places you stopped on the way to Vegas (been there seen that), you just wanna get home to relax. But, now on your way home you know all the exits to take so you just keep driving knowing which exit you're gonna exit to rest a little. And, (with your honey driving a little) the....Next.....thing you know you look down the road and see that last exit that takes you to your house where you can finally lie down and rest from the "fun" of Vegas. HUH? Moral?(no thank you): At (pick an age over 55) - We've been, There! Yep, done that (a few times), and we have seen all the scenery along the way of this 'unknown' life. And we can see that last exit from here, and it's getting closer all the time. ps.I was asked by a young man, "what's the worse thing about getiing old,?" Not thinking myself old (teenager/musician in the 60's you know), I replied, "Getting old". (But I still don't need viva viagra) Time-Faster-Age, Wed, 10th Dec 2008

I read all the blogs and theroy about why time seems to be moving faster, that it's all in the perception.. This may be true, but i seriuosly think, that its something more than that. I think its more scientific, maybe a time/ space thing, i dont know, im not a scientist, but just as a dog can hear sounds that humans cant. I think I can actually feel time, like a sixth sense, now Im sure, whoever is reading this may think im totally whacked. but ive been trying to anyalyze this for a while now.. there is something happening with time, i can sense it i can feel it. Can i explain it? Time is moving faster! even if i do nothing all day, the theroy says it should be a long day, but no, time moves for me, extremely fast. now i said for me, maybe its the way my brain processes time, either through the phisology of my make up or maybe im just nuts! but when i tell you that I feel it inside of me that time is moving faster, I know that something is truly happening, maybe too subtle for the average person to feel, but it IS happening.. ok im going to check myself into the looney bin now.. does anyone have the time?? TimeTrekker Rick, Sun, 14th Dec 2008

This explanation is not correct. When I was a child, I had nothing to do all summer, i was bored every day and the summer felt like forever, also now, when I look back, it seems like it took forever. Now, I have a lot to do, many new experiences, and I have a feeling time is passing by at the speed of light. Kris, Thu, 29th Jan 2009

Those of you who are 55 or older think about this. The 80's were 30 years ago...seem like yesterday to you? Connie, Mon, 2nd Feb 2009

Not that age but I can say this.
I'm timeless:) yor_on, Tue, 10th Feb 2009

Me too Chemistry4me, Tue, 10th Feb 2009

Couldn't life seem faster because everything is faster. It used to take a week to travel 30km now only minutes. In the future it may only take an nanosecond. echochartruse, Mon, 2nd Mar 2009

I say on this topic that not age..... healthcoach, Fri, 27th Mar 2009

I need a ticking-time bomb! Chemistry4me, Fri, 27th Mar 2009

LoL.... raghavendra, Sat, 28th Mar 2009

Why has that spam still not been spotted?  Chemistry4me, Sat, 28th Mar 2009

No, the 80s was the day before yesterday. The 90s was yesterday.

Can't believe its nearly 12 years since I started uni! I'm sure I was only 22 last week. fishytails, Sat, 28th Mar 2009

No, the 80s was the day before yesterday. The 90s was yesterday.

Can't believe its nearly 12 years since I started uni! I'm sure I was only 22 last week. fishytails, Sat, 28th Mar 2009

Times always have present motion. We are not in a position to hold it. But many times we repent at present for our past did and keep worrying about future. If and if we could able to concentrate in present ur time shall never run faster or slower too. textilesinfomediarydotcom, Sun, 5th Apr 2009

I absolutely agree with this view. The older one gets, their ability to process information slows down. While we're young, our brains are more able to analyze greater quanities of data, this activity fills up our time with more information to scrutinize. This would naturely have the effect of causing our preception of it's passage to slow down. Conversely, the opposite will happen as our brains become less efficient resulting in the illusion that time is speeding up.............Ethos Ethos, Mon, 13th Apr 2009

I did notice this for sure and here follow reasons applicable to me I would guess.

When I was young, the world was more simple virtually, I kept myself busy with real practical things, also at school the pace was slower, so time did exist for things I was busy exploring or doing, small periods of time flying excisted.

Today, years later and especially since the 1990's things tend to speed up time.
Busy with virtual stuff rather than using a spade, make time go fly by as your brain is more occupied as time passes rather than your body.

In the military, marching up  down the time passed slowly for me. Sitting in front of a computer, the time flies, or interesting stuff at work, the time flies.
The more I feel I make a contrabution to work, the faster the time flies.

Today large periods of flying time excists for me. That does not mean I actually accoplished more 24/7.

Imagine this:All the AC/DC power of the whole world switched off for one year...I can imagine that year will slow down considerably, even if I went older.??

Dr Guz, Fri, 1st May 2009

Very little research exists on this subject, but it has been researched. The pervading wisdom points mostly toward the posts here that mention "novelty" of experiences. When young, most all experiences are new or unknowns. As we get older, we go through many routines each day that hardly require new input to accomplish, since the data already exists in our minds (kind of like autopilot). And after a certain age, we are capable of metacognition--thinking about our thinking. So, when something NEW comes along, we have enough experience behind us to 'create' a scenario in our mind that accomplishes the anticipated end from our own means). The novelty, that used to stretch our minds to create our own unique perception of experiences, has worn away and an internal routine has taken over. You would need to have an extremely life altering experience, see through someone else's eyes or lose your complete memory to experience the same kind of novelty as when quite young. Time isn't moving any faster than it was years ago, and your perception hasn't really changed either. It's just that your mind is too busy routing all of your past experience to make your daily routines flow--and sometimes become more efficient--to be able to allow your mind to basically 'surprise' itself anymore. Obstacles, Wed, 3rd Jun 2009

My own take on this is that is not a matter of perception but a matter of consciousness. Consciousness is a kind of generalised awareness which takes into account our every day perceptions, our memories, our dreams, our sensory imput, our feelings or emotions etc. As children this generalised awareness is limited as we are still trying to form links between all of those everyday perceptions. Our general sense of the world is that is is fast and immediate.

An older person would have a more expanded consciousness and all processing would be through a matrix of linked preperceptions that would take longer, giving us a sense of the paced and the sedate. Effectively there is more time to think and thinking takes more time. Shane Killeen, Fri, 12th Jun 2009

could it be that the way we experience time is related to the speed which we are traveling away from the center of the universe? if it's true that the universe is expanding at an exponentially increasing speed, could this cause time to speed up for us as time passes here on earth (as measured by the earth orbiting the sun)? jen, Sun, 29th Apr 2012

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