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Time flies by slower then there is an uncertainty about the future

Posted October 11, 2016

We perceive time in mysterious ways. We do not have extremely accurate time measuring mechanisms in our body, which means that it has a lot to do with our thought. Now scientists from the University of Toronto Scarborough discovered that uncertainty over future events causes time to feel longer.

Worrying about the future makes time feel slower. Image credit: Bhernandez via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

Worrying about the future makes time feel slower. Image credit: Bhernandez via Wikimedia, CC BY 2.0

There is a very simple example to illustrate this. When you are travelling to a new place the trip usually feels much longer than when you are coming back home, even though the distance is exactly the same. Uncertainty about future distorts our perception of time, making it feel longer. In fact, scientists used the return-trip phenomenon to analyse how uncertainty affects time perception. People have been noticing that the trip home feels much shorter for quite some time, which started drawing attention of the scientists. But why does it happen, if the stopwatch would show the same time?

People start their journey at home and then go somewhere new, not knowing what to expect. And then go back home and this trip is much more relaxed. Researchers say that the uncertain trip feels longer, because uncertainty increases the intensity of the emotion being felt. It means that strategy of some stores and other companies, promising surprises, may not be effective. Cherrie Kwok, one of the authors of the study, said: “Afterward, customers may remember that the drive to the store felt like it took a really long time, and if they think it was time consuming, they may decide next time to go a different, closer store instead”. On the other hand, uncertainty in vacation may make it feel longer.

However, many trips are routine and we know exactly what is going to happen at the end of it. It means they are going by quicker. Therefore, scientists suggest not thinking about the outcome of the trip to make it feel shorter. It is better to make yourself busy with a good movie, a nice conversation with a friend or an intriguing podcast. Not thinking of the time passing is the best way to avoid unnecessary worrying.

Time is a subjective concept. Sometimes it is running by quickly and sometimes it is moving like a lazy snail. Not thinking about the time passing and not worrying about the future is the healthiest attitude to long boring trips.


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