The Psychology of Time

by YPU Admin on May 12, 2016. Tags: psychology, Research, and UoM


My name is Emily Williams and I’m currently a first year Psychology PhD student at the University of Manchester (UoM). After completing my A-Levels in 2010 (Psychology, Sociology and Computing), I went on to study Psychology at UoM from 2011 to 2014, and the following year I completed a Psychology Masters at UoM also. During my Masters studies I managed to secure funding for a three year PhD which started in October 2015. As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of Psychology, and also UoM (when I finish my PhD I will have been here seven years!), but my main interest specifically is the Psychology of Time Perception – how people perceive time.

As a Time Perception researcher I believe that people have a type of ‘internal clock’ which is what gives us the ability to sense how time passes. The speed of the internal clock can be altered, which gives us the perception of time dragging when we’re bored, or flying when we’re having fun. Other things have been found to speed up the clock, including high body temperature, certain emotions, and even hearing a series of ‘clicks’ for five seconds. Time seems to pass more quickly in these situations, which makes us overestimate how much ‘real’ time has passed. The first year of my PhD will focus mainly on a certain quirk of the internal clock – people judge sounds to be longer than lights, even when they are both the exact same duration. People are also more sensitive to duration when using their sense of hearing, than touch and vision.

In Depth…

For my first experiment, my participants will be sat in a dim room in front of a computer, with their dominant hand holding a foam block containing a small vibration generator (like the one in your mobile phone) and their non-dominant hand poised to type in answers using a keypad. A green LED is attached to the foam block, and a speaker is behind it. The vibrating plate, LED and speaker will present sounds, lights and vibrations to participants, and in the first task they will have to estimate how long these lasted for.

In the second task they will be given two of these (e.g. a light and a sound, or two vibrations) and have to answer ‘which was longer’, and on the final task ‘which came first?’.

I will then look at people’s answers for these tasks, and check whether the classic overestimations of how long sounds were when compared to lights are present. I will then try to see if there is a relationship between how accurate people are in their estimations, and how well they can answer which was longer and which came first. My guess is that the better people are at estimating time using one sense (e.g. vision, touch or hearing), the better they are at telling whether time in this sense was longer than another sense, and whether this sense came first. What do you think?

Next year, I will be broadening my scope to other things that affect the internal clock. I will also be looking at possible applications for my research. For example, the ‘clicks’ that I mentioned earlier have been found to not only affect how we perceive time, but have the added bonus of increasing the amount of information we can take in, and also speed up how quickly we can react to things! Although these are quite short-lived bonuses, I might be able to invent a way to help people revise for exams, or be better at video games, using a series of simple clicks.

Going Further…

Visit this website if you’d like to know more about the Psychology of Time Perception, including how it may work in the brain. It has a great section on ‘temporal illusions’ where it explains many things which change the speed of the internal clock, making your perception of time seem faster or slower.

Take a look at this article on Time Perception by the BBC, which features an interview with Professor John Wearden, a notable time perception researcher, who also used to be Head of Psychology at UoM!

This YouTube channel shows lecturers at UoM talking about common misconceptions about Psychology, and highlights of their research.

If you’re interested in the other types of Psychological research going on at UoM, click here.

Finally, have a look at a previous Young Person University blog about Psychology.

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