Have you ever felt that time has seemed to go faster and wondered why weeks, months, and even a year seemed to slip passed you in an instant? You are not alone. A lot of people are harboring the same sentiments. Furthermore, when factoring age, this weird feeling that time seems to go faster is more prominent among adults. There is an explanation for this.
Explaining Why Time Flies: Time Does Seem to Speed Up as We Grow Older
The rotation and revolution of the Earth do not change in a drastic manner nor does the movement of clocks and watches. The reason why it feels like time goes faster as we grow older comes from the simplest fact that our sense of time speeds up as we age. There is a more detailed and concrete explanation according to science.
Desensitization to Experiences
One of the reasons why adults feel that time goes faster as they age is that they tend to become desensitized to their experiences and information about their immediate surroundings due to constant exposure. This is attuned with the Adaptation Level Theory of Harry Helson. Adults process less information while children process more because they are more curious about the novel experiences that come with interacting with their surroundings.
Processing new information involves savoring each moment and taking into account the details of each experience. Children are exposed to new things and even novel ideas as they navigate through their lives. However, as they grow older and become adults, they have acquired enough information about their surroundings. Information and experience become familiar and part of a routine. Processing becomes less. Adults are on autopilot.
However, in some cases, doing the same routine or exposure to the same experiences can also trigger a feeling that time seems to move slower. This phenomenon has been observed in older individuals aged 75 years and up living in retirement homes according to a study by psychology professor S. Droit-Volet. However, the same study also noted that as cognitive functions decline, older individuals perceive time as passing quickly again.
Fast-Paced Lifestyle of Adults
Working adults also tend to perceive time as going faster compared to when they were younger. This feeling is more pronounced among individuals with hectic work schedules or demanding workloads. A particular individual would be too focused on completing a particular task at a specific time of the day that the entire perception of time becomes immaterial. Repeating this routine each day is similar to being in autopilot mode.
Furthermore, the busier an individual, the fewer chances he or she will have time to savor each moment or have time to do things outside his or her work such as having long conversations with family or friends, watching a television series, or simply relaxing and doing nothing. These individuals also tend to stick to a particular and familiar day-to-day routine as part of prioritizing the completion of their work-related deliverables.
The Socioemotional Selectivity Theory developed by Stanford psychologist Laura L. Carstensen can also explain why adults prefer spending most of their time in pursuit of their professional goals and objectives. This life-span theory of motivation postulates that people tend to be more selective and invest greater resources in meaningful goals and objectives as they grow older because they believe that their time horizon shrinks.
Physics of Neural Signal Processing
The feeling that time seems to go faster as we age has been documented by psychologists and other researchers in related fields and disciplines. However, as discussed above, there are different explanations. There is still no consensus as regards the exact cause or reason why older individuals have a different perception of time compared with younger individuals. Physicist Adrian Bejan offers another interesting explanation grounded in physics.
In his paper entitled “Why The Days Seem Shorter as We Age” and published in the European Review in 2019, Bejan argues that biological aging comes with an expansion of the network of neurons in the brain. The increasing size and complexity of this neural network mean that electrical signals traverse greater distances as a particular individual grows older. This results in slower processing time and affects the perception of time.
Furthermore, he added that aging also results in the accumulation of damage in the nerves. This damage increases the resistance to the flow of electric signals and impede signal processing. This also explains why time seems to go faster as individual ages. Bejan highlighted that slower signal processing results in a particular individual perceiving fewer “frames-per-second” or more actual time between the perception of each new mental image.
Summary and Conclusion: The Reason Why Time Seems to Go Faster as we Grow Older
The “subjective time effect” is the perception that time seems to move more quickly as we age. One explanation is that older individuals have more encounters and experiences that lead to a greater sense of time passing.
There are also differences in how adults and children perceive subjective time. Children tend to have a slower perception of time because they are experiencing and learning new things from their environments for the first time. Exposure to novel experiences and information mean that children process more compared with adults.
Adults, on the other hand, may have a faster perception of time because they have more experiences and are less likely to be surprised by new things. They process information less. Adults also tend to be more focused on accomplishing a particular task while thinking of the past or the future while children are more attuned to the present moment.
It is also worth mentioning that the brains of adults become less sensitive to the passage of time as they age. This happens because of neurological changes that include expansion of neural networks and accumulation of damages that slow down neural signal processing.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Bejan, A. 2019. “Why The Days Seem Shorter as We Age.” European Review. 27(2): 187-194. DOI: 1017/S1062798718000741
- Carstensen, L. L. 1992. “Social and Emotional Patterns in Adulthood: Support for Socioemotional Selectivity Theory.” Psychology and Aging. 7(3): 331-338. DOI: 1037//0882-79126.96.36.1991
- Droit-Volet, S. 2016. “Time Does Not Fly But Slow Down in Old Age.” Time & Society. 28(1). DOI: 1177/0961463X16656852