Time distortion - time in a crisis, flying time, and kettle watching time

The passage of time is not as it seems. Does time slow down during a crisis? Does time fly when you’re having fun? Does time get faster as you get older? Is the return trip of a journey shorter? Will the watched kettle ever boil?
Weird world of time One thing we do know is that our perception of time often gets distorted. That is, what we intuitively think about the passage of time differs from the actual ‘clock time’. Let’s think about some examples.

Time slows down during a crisis

Many have personally felt that time slowed down during a frightening experience. For example, I was once a passenger in a high speed car accident whereby our car lost control and flipped three times. While it all happened in an instant, I remembered details about each flip of the car. Perhaps you have also experienced this.
Some great experiments on this experience include - spider-phobic individuals predicting time while facing off against spiders; people performing tasks while jumping from frightening heights (into safety nets); and measuring the reactions of people walking both towards and away from a danger zone. One of these researchers (David Eagleman) claims that what happens is that “frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories”, and therefore “the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took”.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Actually, time flies when you’re fully engaged in something, and often it may not be fun. Anthony Chaston (from the University of British Columbia) sums it up well - ”time flies whenever your attention is really engaged in an activity, and you’re trying to monitor the passage of time” .
Hence, if your work day flies then perhaps it is because (a) you are fully engaged in your work, and (b) you are aware of a tight deadline. Something to think about - apparently, a good indication of a student doing well in an exam is that the exam times goes quickly.

Time goes faster as you get older

Do you remember as a kid how each Christmas would take forever to arrive? Now, the years are clicking over so fast you want Christmas to take forever to arrive. Have you heard the saying – “Life is like a roll of toilet paper; the closer to the end you get, the faster it goes”.
Why does time seem to go faster as you get older? Perhaps it is because we are busier and our days are packed with more commitments and responsibilities than our childhood. Perhaps it is a just a function of relative age. For example, a year is 20% of a five year old life, whereas a year represents just 2% of a 50 year old life. Then again, perhaps it’s just as you get older life losses a newness about it and seeming less remarkable and re-memorable feels shorter.


In summary, of course the rate of time doesn’t really change. What changes is our perception and awareness of time. In this weird world we all experience our own distorted view of time.


  • “When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.” (Albert Einstein)
  • "There are moments, you reach moments, when all of a sudden time stops and becomes eternal.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky)


Hancock P.A & Weaver J.L , "On time distortion under stress", Therertical issues in ergonomics science, Vol 6, No 2, Taylor & Francis Group, March - April 2005, 193-211, www.mit.ucf.edu/TimePercept/Hancock_Weaver_2005.pdf
Hendrick B., "It's true: Happy times do fly by", The Atlanta Journal - Constitution, Atlanta, Ga: Sep 12, 2004.
Hill J, "Time: Does it slow down in a crisis?",  Nov 5, 2008, The Daily Galaxy,  http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/11/time-does-it-sl.html
Stetson C, Fiesta MP, Eagleman DM (2007), "Does Time Really Slow Down During a Frightening Event?", PLos ONE 2(12), http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0001295




Good food for thought. Your point about how time seems to fly when one is engaged in an activity reminds me of something mentioned in a psych 101 lecture. From memory, there is this concept of "flow" which is a state where the person is fully engaged in a task or goal-oriented situation. The most common situation where "flow" occurs is during work. Another example is playing sport. They say people are happiest when they are in "flow" as they can forget about other things.
Not to be nitpicky but a typo in the Einstein quote --> last word should be relativity.

Overall site comment : great site and interesting ideas to provoke thought and discussion, plus some good, practical tips. To save and make the most of one's time is an issue that everyone can find relevant. There is a school of thought though, that doesn't see any time as a waste. What defines a waste of time? Even if the goal isn't achieved or time fully utilised, the time spent is still an experience that could be considered as valid.

Keep spending your time on this site!! =)

Thanks for picking up typo (now correctled) and your comments.

The thoughts what is and isn't a waste of time is a good one. I have a backlog of about 80 articles, but plan to cover this in an article under 'energy management' which looks at the important of 'download' in order to recover. Some might see 'downtime' as a waste, but the truth is we need it to avoid burnout.


What number of of you have got ever been concerned with a big different who wished you to do one thing you didn’t want to do? I doubt that I’m the one one. By advantage of a significant other relationship, there will likely be times when our partners will want us to do issues we don’t necessarily need to do and conversely, there will probably be instances once we will need our partners to do issues they don’t want to do.

Sorry but I don't understand your comment. Did you want to explain that? How is it related to time distortion?