How the epidemic changed our perception of time in 2020

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The perception of the passage of time is a subjective phenomenon. And the year 2020, marked by health measures linked to the pandemic, is proof of this. On the site The Conversation, a psychology researcher explains her.

Quarantines, unconfined, containment. The year 2020 was marked by the health measures generated by the Covid-19 epidemic. Which altered our perception of time a bit. For many of us, 2020 has seemed extremely long, compared to the previous ones. For others, however, time has passed faster than usual, especially during periods of confinement. In columns on The Conversation website, Ruth Ogden, a professor of psychology at Liverpool John Moores University (UK), detailed this strange phenomenon.

Remembering that objectively, time passes at a constant and linear speed, the specialist explains that subjectively, however, time passes more or less quickly depending on our activities and emotions. Or rather, our perception of the passage of time changes according to circumstances.

In a study conducted last April, the experimental psychology researcher questioned 604 Britons about the speed at which time passed during this period of confinement, compared to the days before this restrictive measure. Her results showed a generalized temporal distortion during confinement, in more than 80% of those surveyed. Time seemed to speed up for 40% of respondents, while it seemed to slow down for the remaining 40%.

"My analysis suggests that perceived speed of time during the day is affected by a persons age, level of satisfaction with their level of social interaction, stress level, and occupation. In general, the days passed faster for young people who were socially satisfied, busy and with low levels of stress. On the contrary, the day passed slower for the elderly, especially those over 60 years old, socially dissatisfied, stressed and with no tasks to attend to, "explained Ruth Ogden , adding that similar trends have been observed. observed on the one-week scale.

However, the researcher indicates that this distortion of time has not been the same from one European country to another. In France, for example, there was not this 40/40 ratio: during a period of confinement, time seemed to slow down for most people, particularly due to increasing boredom and sadness.

Why do we feel that time is slowing down?

To explain this phenomenon of time distortion, the researcher hypothesizes the use of cognitive skills (perception, reflection, attention, memory, etc.) to increase our monitoring of the passage of time. As we get bored, we have more cognitive skills available, which we use despite ourselves in the perception of the passage of time.

"This increased vigilance results in time passing slower than normal, simply because we are more aware than normal. Another possibility is that the emotional consequence of confinement changes the way the brain processes time," he adds Ruth Ogden, who believes that negative emotions related to isolation, boredom, sadness, and stress may have contributed to the perceived slowdown in time.

Regarding 2021, the psychologist is cautious. While she believes there is clear hope in vaccine deployment, a return to normal in terms of time perception may not be immediate. She advises everyone to be as busy as possible and to have social interactions (live or video) to limit this time warping phenomenon.

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