The Psychology of Time

August 19, 2019

Part 3 of the About Time series, this episode takes a closer look at the subjective time — the time we ‘feel’ — to see how our brains create our sense of time.

With special guests:
GuestVera da Silva Sinha

This episode in brief

How we are able to perceive time (02:30)

Time processing plays a role in almost all aspects of our cognitive function. But what exactly is happening in our brain? This episode introduces the core mechanism of time perception, from the 3-second perceptual moment, to the combined role of memory, attention and anticipation. We see that our brain is constantly throwing out predictions based on previous experience and testing them against new information in our environment.

How the brain keeps time (08:45)

Even though we can’t see, touch or hear time, our brains can still track its passage. We know what minutes and hour feel like, even when sat in a windowless meeting room. But how do we do this? This section explores some of the theories around how and where the brain predicts duration — both when consciously paying attention to time passing, or reconstructing a sense of it after the fact.

Why does time speed up and slow down? (12:50)

Unlike clock time, the time you directly experience isn’t steady and constant. It’s continually speeding up and slowing down, and as we age time seems to get faster. But what causes this flux? With the help of neuropsychologist Marc Wittmann, we explore how memory density, novelty, signpost events, attention to time, drugs affecting dopamine and emotional states all impact our perception of time. We see that perceiving time in so many ways is not a design flaw, but an essential part of our humanity.