-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Jan. 21 (HealthDay News) -- A person's perception of
time may be influenced more by sensory information than by a
specific internal clock, suggests a new study.
And that means that outside stimuli can bias a person's sense of
how much time has passed, researchers say.
"There are many proposals for how an internal clock might work, but no one has found a single part of the brain that keeps track of time. It may be that there is no such place, that our perception of time is distributed across the brain and makes use of whatever information is available," Maneesh Sahani, of the Gatsby Computational Neuroscience Unit at University College London in the United Kingdom, said in a university news release.
Sahani and colleagues conducted a series of experiments with
volunteers to test this theory. In one such test, 20 participants
watched circles of light appear on a screen twice in a row, and
were asked which one lasted longer. When the circles were flashed
along with a mottled pattern that changed at random, but at a
regular interval, the participants made better guesses -- which
indicated that they were judging the passing of time against the
rate in which the mottled pattern changed.
Then the scientists changed the rules: They asked the
participants to determine how long the mottled patterns lasted, but
varied the rate of the intervals between pattern changes. Although
the patterns changed faster, the volunteers judged them to be
lasting longer -- a phenomenon suggesting that sensory change can
warp a person's sense of time.
The researchers concluded that people's sense of time comes
partly from observing the rate of change in their surroundings and
comparing it to the expected "average" rate of change in their
"Our sense of time is affected by outside stimuli, and is therefore highly [variable], which is something that resonates with people's feelings about the passing of time," Sahani said.
Study first author Misha Ahrens added: "It is possible to bias
people's perception of time, which does not fit with the idea of a
rigid internal brain clock. The answer to why this happens is that
part of our perception of time is based on changing sensory input
from the outside world, which we can use to improve our judgments
of time in an environment where rate of change is likely to be
The study was published in the Jan. 20 online edition of the
For more information on our biological clock, visit the
University of Utah's
Time of Our Lives.
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