Tick Tock

Remember those days when you were little and you wanted to go out to play with your friends, but none were available until later that afternoon? How the minutes dragged by! The well-known cliché of your life flashing before your eyes when you think you’re having a near-death experience isn’t true, although a strong feeling of regret about trying to Twitter whilst driving on the freeway is likely to occur. The point here is that our emotions mess with our temporal appreciation.

How long something takes, isn't something to take lightly, indeed, we must approach it with some gravitas. As we deal more and more with machines, whether production lines or personal robotic assistants we have a real need to know (1).

However, we are human and are subject to our emotions, so we have to adjust our clock to Human Emotion Time. Or that is how the received wisdom has it. The pacemaker of our internal clock slows when we’re worked up, aka emotionally stimulated. Lui et al from National U’s of Singapore and Jhongli have tried to pin this down (2).

They carried out a series of experiments with cadres of about 15 female undergrads who were shown images of circles on a computer screen for short intervals interspersed with pictures. The pictures were either neutral scenes like plants and building or nasty, like mangled bits of bodies, assault or toilet scenes, all which would have a significant effect on the equanimity of the observer.

If our internal clock slows down in proportion to how tightly wound we are, the expected result would be for the ladies to estimate that they saw the circle images for longer after seeing the nasty pictures. The reverse was the case. The suggestion was that their attention was distracted by the previous images and that altered their time assessment.

In retrospect, not a surprising result as we know how texting or managing our Facebook wall can make even the most horrible and boring lecture seem short. But I am puzzled as to why only those of the female persuasion were tested. Were they thought to be more emotionally susceptible that we mere stiff upper-lipped males?

  1. http://james-goodwin.blogspot.com/2011/07/momentary-lapses.html
  2. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0021829

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