Get psyched!


TechLife Australia - - CONTENTS - [ TECH­LIFE TEAM ]

WHEN YOU’RE WAIT­ING for a bus, you can usu­ally es­ti­mate how long you’ve been stand­ing there. Our abil­ity to keep track of time is im­por­tant in al­most ev­ery as­pect of day-to-day life, from play­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment to hold­ing a con­ver­sa­tion.

That lit­tle in­ter­nal alarm that says you’ve been stand­ing in the shower for too long comes from a type of tem­po­ral pro­cess­ing sup­ported by two neu­ral clocks. Re­searchers pre­vi­ously thought that our in­tu­itive time­keep­ing abil­ity came from a part of the brain called the stria­tum. Stud­ies have shown that this re­gion is ac­ti­vated when peo­ple pay at­ten­tion to time, and pa­tients with Parkin­son’s dis­ease — which dis­rupts the stria­tum — can have dif­fi­culty telling the time. Sci­en­tists pre­dict that the stria­tum con­sis­tently pulses with ac­tiv­ity, a lit­tle bit like the tick­ing of a clock. How­ever, re­cent stud­ies sug­gest that, in or­der to be con­scious of the pas­sage of time, your brain also re­lies on the hip­pocam­pus to re­mem­ber how many pulses from the stria­tum have oc­curred. This con­cept is known as the in­ter­val timer the­ory, and it ex­plains how we un­con­sciously judge time spans on the scale of sec­onds to hours.

You will no­tice that time spent with your friends seems to pass much faster than when you’re writ­ing an as­sign­ment [ Un­less you’re run­ning late with your dead­line! — Sub-Ed]. Neu­ro­sci­en­tists have found that this is be­cause your brain stops record­ing these pulses of ac­tiv­ity when you stop pay­ing at­ten­tion to time, such as when you’re en­grossed in an ac­tiv­ity. When this hap­pens, the brain puts fewer ‘ticks’ of its in­ter­nal clock in stor­age, mak­ing it feel like less time has passed.

On the other hand, in sit­u­a­tions where you are more ac­tively aware of the time — like when you’re wait­ing for a de­layed ap­point­ment — your mind will be count­ing ev­ery tick be­cause you have lit­tle else to dis­tract your­self with, mak­ing the pas­sage of time feel much slower. So the next time you find that the day is drag­ging on, try to take your mind off the time to dis­tract your in­ter­nal clock.

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