Why does the way there feel longer than the way back?

Asked by Han­nah Tucker

Guru Magazine - - Ask A Guru - An­swered by Dr Stu (Science Guru)

Time ticks steadily on – but our minds don’t. When we get ner­vous, scared or anx­ious, the body’s ‘ fight

or flight’ re­sponse is trig­gered: adren­a­line surges around the body, heart rate in­creases and pupils di­late. Your body primes it­self for ac­tion – and so does your brain. The brain ‘ fires’ more rapidly, help­ing you to make de­ci­sions very quickly. And as your brain shifts up a gear, time con­se­quently ap­pears to slow down. If you’ve ever jumped off a cliff into the sea (don’t do it), it prob­a­bly felt like the fall lasted sev­eral sec­onds. In re­al­ity it was prob­a­bly less than one. Like­wise, when you’re trav­el­ling some­where, you are prob­a­bly feel­ing ever-so-slightly more anx­ious than how you feel on the way home. It may be the ex­cite­ment of go­ing to a nice ho­tel, or the worry of get­ting lost. Th­ese height­ened anx­i­ety lev­els will make time feel as if is pass­ing more slowly. How­ever, there is an­other rea­son re­lated to our hor­ri­bly fal­li­ble mem­ory: ev­ery­one’s mem­ory is sub­ject to a psy­cho­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non called ‘ tele­scop­ing’. When did you last see your Great Aunt Daphne? Was it a cou­ple of days, a few weeks, or a cou­ple of months? It is prob­a­bly longer ago than it feels. This ‘tele­scop­ing ef­fect’ means your most re­cent mem­o­ries will nearly al­ways feel as though they hap­pened more re­cently than they did. So, as you sit in the de­par­ture lounge con­sid­er­ing how long it took to travel from home to the air­port, it will feel as if you ar­rived at check-in much sooner than you did. The mem­ory of set­ting off from home will not be ‘tele­scoped’ as much – giv­ing the over­all ef­fect that the trav­el­ling time was longer than it was.

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