To test the idea that your brain speeds up in emergencies, professor David Eagleman and his team at Baylor College of Medicine decided to drop volunteers from a platform 15 stories high. On the volunteers' wrists, the researchers placed a watch-like device they engineered called a "perceptual chronometer," which flashed random numbers at a speed beyond what a normal person could comprehend. The idea was that if your brain speeds up in crisis, the falling participants would experience a slowdown of time that would let them read the quickly flashing numbers. Unfortunately, the volunteers couldn't read the numbers while they fell any better than they could when they were safely in the lab. Still, when they reported how long their fall had lasted, their perception of the time was three times longer than it was in reality. The researchers believe this is because in an emergency, a walnut-sized area of the brain known as the amygdala activates to lay down memories at a much higher density than in everyday life. This may be a way to increase your chances of survival, since remembering a time you were in danger can help you avoid getting in that situation again. When you recall these emergency memories, the higher-detail recording makes it seem as though time actually slowed down in the moment.
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Key Facts In This Video
When we're focused on something, we don't notice the time passing. That makes it seem shorter than it actually is. 03:10
Our sense of how long something is correlates with how much energy our brains are using on it. Brain energy use peaks around age 5, which could be why time seems to speed up as we age. 04:14
Being afraid and being bored both increase our perception of time. 04:50