Has pandemic changed our perception towards time?

What date is it today? What day is it today? Did you also have to think a lot or guessed a wrong date or day? Well, you are not the only one. We are not much enthusiast these days about the weekends, because all the days feel similar. We are getting lazy, the clock ticks faster than usual, and we just don’t care.

Even the psychologists who study time perception have felt their days ooze into one another. “I’ve experienced it myself,” says Kevin LaBar, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Duke University. This is mostly due to a constrained environment we have started living in.

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Stressful, worldwide events that confine everyone to their homes aren’t exactly common, so researchers like LaBar don’t know how, precisely, the current pandemic will distort someone’s temporal perception. But other investigations into negative emotions and time might provide some clues — as well as a few ways to cope. 

Most experiments that try detangling our feelings from our sense of time look at short intervals, like seconds or minutes of strong emotions, LaBar says. Those studies show that scary or stressful experiences tend to feel longer. People seeing neutral and threatening faces in a lab scenario, for example, report they saw the upset face for longer. In reality, the faces appeared for equal amounts of time.

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When researchers examine people’s brain activity in response to these sights, they see that we devote more attention to what’s in front of us when it’s threatening, LaBar says. It’s possible the attention-suck of scary incidents explains why they seem to last longer. If something alarming demands more of our mental resources, then we look back and feel as if the encounter must have taken more time — it took all that investment, after all.   

Constantly worrying about the coronavirus might pull a similar trick on our brains, LaBar thinks. “You’re devoting more of your resources — both your attention resources and memory resources — to processing information about the event,” he says. “That extends the feeling that it’s lasting longer.”

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The way to stop this cycle can be done by changing our regular habits, making a to-do-list and most importantly enjoying and devoting time towards your hobbies and your interests.

If we don’t give our brains something to do, we tend to self-reflect — and the ongoing global health crisis seems like a convenient problem for the mind to mull over. Worrying over the same topic repeatedly “can make it seem like you’ve invested longer, because you’re actually just re-engaging these thought processes on the pandemic,” LaBar says.

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