Why Does Time Fly as We Get Older?

Posted on December 19, 2013

Another year; another Christmas around the corner.

The conversation around the watercooler these days has evolved into the annual “where has the time gone?” discussion—how quickly the neighborhood kids have become high school graduates; how our hot July beach vacations seem like they were just yesterday; and how we haven’t baked cookies or sent cards or bought gifts yet because time has just been flying by.

Of course, aging doesn’t grant us the power to disrupt the space-time continuum, so it’s not a real problem. But why do we perceive it to be?

Psychologist William James, in his 1890 text Principles of Psychology, wrote that as we age, time seems to speed up because adulthood is accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events. When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood, James morosely argues, causes “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse.”

So, what’s going on here? Why does it seem like Christmas 2012 was just last week when, as a child, it seemed to take ages to arrive?

We’ll probably never know why, exactly, but psychologists have put forth some interesting theories:

We gauge time by memorable events.

As William James hypothesized, we may be measuring past intervals of time by the number of events that can be recalled in that period. Imagine a 40-something mom experiencing the repetitive, stressful daily grind work and family life. The abundant memories of her high school years (homecoming football games, prom, first car, first kiss, graduation) may, compared to now, seem like much longer than the mere four years that they were.

The amount of time passed relative to one’s age varies.

For a 5-year-old, one year is 20% of their entire life. For a 50-year-old, however, one year is only 2% of their life. This “ratio theory,” proposed by Janet in 1877, suggests that we are constantly comparing time intervals with the total amount of time we’ve already lived.

Click on the link below to read the full article


Category(s):Aging & Geriatric Issues

Source material from Scientific American


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