Don't just track time, track your perception of it!
Documentation last updated on May 04 2012.
Thoughts like, "Time flies when you're having fun," or "Lecture lasts forever," originate from our highly variable sense of time. You have experienced this if you have ever checked your watch to discover that much more (or less) time has progressed than you expected. TicTocTrac is a wristwatch that doesn't just keep time, but measures your perception of it, allowing you to track changes over the course of days or even months.
Time, specifically its measurement, has fascinated humanity for thousands of years. As the devices we use to measure time have evolved, they have progressively become more elaborate and precise. NIST has a great page documenting the history of time. While time measurement itself is intriguing, perhaps even more fascinating is how we internally perceive time.
Our perception of time is distorted constantly every day. Most of us are familiar with the old adage, "time flies when you are having fun." This isn't quite true. A more accurate statement would be that our perception of time is proportional to the amount of new and intricate experiences we are observing. If you are practicing a new sport or working on a project that involves a lot of concentration then you perceive time as slower. Since you have been absorbing more information than usual, time seems like it has expanded and thus feels longer.
Then why do we often feel like time flies when we are having fun? It may be because it seems faster compared to when we are bored (and thus paying a lot of attention to the passage of time). A great list discusses this possibility as well as several other great facts about time. Personally, we think it might result from a desire to continue the fun activity after it is done, thus resulting in it the perception that it was too short of a time, regardless of the actual length of the activity. It has also been found that different types of music can cause time to slow down as you get caught up in the music. Video gamers would certainly agree with a study done that showed how time seems to speed up and pass you by when you become absorbed in a video game - a day may pass before you even realize it!
Not only does our time perception vary throughout our day to day life, but it actually speeds up significantly as we get older. Science isn't sure if it is because our brain is slowing down, experiences are becoming less unique, or if each experience is shorter in proportion to our life thus far. NPR examined this and even did their own experiment, finding that older people (over 60) would often estimate a minute to actually be a minute and a half!
There have been many psychological studies on time perception. Professor Dan Zakay has conducted numerous experiments on time perception. His 1997 article, Temporal Cognition, details four primary methods for measuring time perception:
- Duration estimation
In this test a subject is given a start and stop stimulus. The subject is then asked to guess the duration between the two stimuli. This guess can be compared to actual time to determine the subject's current time perception.
- Duration production - this is the method used by tictoctrac
In this test a subject is asked to wait what they feel is a specific duration after a start stimulus. The subject then signals when they believe the desired duration has passed. The time it took for them to signal is compared to the desired duration to determine the subject's time perception.
- Duration reproduction
In this test the subject observes a duration between stimuli and is asked to reproduce this duration. This is similar to the duration production task, but instead of being told a desired duration they observe the duration first. Their reproduced duration can be compared to the original duration to determine the subject's time perception.
- Duration comparison
In this test the subject observes two different durations and is asked to choose which one felt faster. Their choice can then indicate if their time became distorted while observing either duration.
I like the design and looks of this one. Would be cool to have...
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