How a clock measures time and how you perceive it are quite different. As we grow older, it can often feel like time goes by faster and faster. This speeding up of subjective time with age is well documented by psychologists, but there is no consensus on the cause. In a paper published this month, Professor Adrian Bejan presents an argument based on the physics of neural signal processing. He hypothesizes that, over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down, and this is what makes time ‘speed up’ as we grow older.

As we age, he argues, the size and complexity of the networks of neurons in our brains increases – electrical signals must traverse greater distances and thus signal processing takes more time. Moreover, ageing causes our nerves to accumulate damage that provides resistance to the flow of electric signals, further slowing processing time. Focusing on visual perception, Bejan posits that slower processing times result in us perceiving fewer ‘frames-per-second’ – more actual time passes between the perception of each new mental image. This is what leads to time passing more rapidly.When we are young, each second of actual time is packed with many more mental images. Like a slow-motion camera that captures thousands of images per second, time appears to pass more slowly.

As he puts it: “People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth. It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful, it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.”

Bejan’s argument is intuitive and based on simple principles of physics and biology. As such, it is a compelling explanation for this common phenomenon. However, it is not the only explanation out there, and so a more rigorous experimental approach may be required before this mystery is solved for good.

Managing Correspondent: Rory Maizels

Original article: Why the Days Seem Shorter as We Get Older – European Review

Media coverage: It’s spring already? Physics explains why time flies as we age – Science Daily; Physics explains why time passes faster as you age – Quartz

Image Credit: Aron Visuals

259 thoughts on “No, It’s Not Just You: Why time “speeds up” as we get older

  1. Oh my gosh. I think you’re all overthinking this. I don’t buy this theory at all. It’s not my perceptions that are off, it’s that it takes longer to do things and we get distracted and daydream more when we are older. I find myself daydreaming, standing there doing nothing, lost in thought and the next thing I know 5 minutes have past and I accomplished nothing. You have less energy and more pain and mobility issues so everything is harder to do so it all takes longer. You simply get less done in an hour than you used to. So you run out of time to do things and the day seems shorter. The other issue this article does not address is that it seems to be affecting everyone regardless of age. The years just seem to be flying by. Two recent examples…locally recent events reminded people of a past event that happened 4 years ago but numerous people of varying ages all commented that it happened a couple of years ago. As I was having the same feeling, I checked for the actual date and it was 4 years ago to the month. Mentioning that surprised everyone. The other example…an incident happened two weeks ago but in conversation we all kept saying “last week” and acting like it had happened a week ago, but after looking at my calendar I realized it was 2 weeks to the day that it happened. Again, the people involved are of varying ages. I would expect that the older the person is, the more inaccurate the perception of time passage would be, but that is not the case. That is why I reject this article’s theory. I just don’t see it manifesting in real life. Something else is going on. Could be all the wifi and cellphone signals and all the different forms of technological radiation we are exposed to constantly. Or could also be due to our constant bombardment of incoming information via TV, radio, phones, internet, any mobile device, etc. We never really have time to ourselves to just relax. There is always something to do. We’re constantly go go go all day. It didn’t used to be like that. I remember getting bored a lot. I haven’t been bored in years. I’m 51.

    1. I thought Richard. P. Cripps post dated August 23rd above expressed your sentiments beautifully. It gave me pause to ponder. I do believe he (and you!) may be on to a technique we oldsters can actually use to slow down the acceleration of passing time…if we wish. Now that is worth a study!

    2. Jennifer, I think your points really hit the nail on the head. Information overload, our brain has so much more to process, and never has a chance to rest. Also as we age, not only do our bodies hinder us from working faster, but our minds have increasingly more experience to sort through. It certainly takes me longer to do the same project as I did when I was younger. It could also be fear of failure. Back in the day, a mistake was a simple learning experience. Now a mistake comes with so much liability that we have to scrutinize everything before making a move, and it takes forever to accomplish anything.

      But I do think the percentage of life is part of it too. Awhile back I was reading some of my old forum content from 20-25 years ago before the board went down. I often referred to 3 weeks prior as “a long time ago”. Now at 47 I’m preoccupied with so much. Maybe if I get to retirement age, things may be different.

  2. A well experienced sales person can do this job only effectively. People who are not sure about outcome based selling should give it a visit. They will be find it very useful.

  3. Wow, the comments on this article is absolutely full of craziness.

    I don’t know why people think they have the knowledge and experience to refute a paper by an actual expert, the dunning kruger effect is quite apparent.

    The amount of pseudoscientific nonsense also present should really warm people off of this website.

  4. It’s all illusion. My experience is that things that happened two weeks ago feel like an eternity. I think it also has to do with consciousness eg. You’re driving and suddenly realize you went five miles (daydreaming?) and how does that differ from dreaming what we dream while asleep? Soon none it will matter as technology encroaches more and more on our ” experience”. The tech giants have us right where they want after all how could we survive sans cellphones, tablets, games it’s dizzying. I digress.

  5. The first question is: what is time. We perhaps define as the duration between events and select what we perceive as events that that are stable. The movement of the earth, the sun or atoms in atomic clocks. Whatever we use; they are observable within our world, solar system and universe. Outside the universe is unknown, unexplored and anyones guess. Light is the sacred fundamental measurement of something alongside gravity. But what would we observe if we didn’t exist in a world of light and gravity? Imagine if our world was at the bottom of the deepest ocean: the abyss, no light and gravity exists, but the the water effective disguises it. Time clearly exist, because things happen. There is a duration of time between events but how would they be measured?
    If you are aware of your own existence, then the length of your life is how you can perceive it. To a three year old a year is a long time ie a third of their living memory, but to an eighty year old, a year is ony an 80th of their living memory. As a general rule: size seems important for lifespan and the slower the activity the longer the life. Ultimately, totally inanimate objects like rocks and mountains stay around for millions of years, but I have no ambition to be one.

  6. I think it’s related to soul development. The older you grow, the more you experience, and your soul develops as well. This speeds up the time that you experience as a person. So in your next reincarnation, the environment time-stamp also speeds up.

  7. Bullsheeve as you age and find time is greater and your fullfilment within that time is diminished you succumb. Purpose in life is the only thing that is going to keep you alive and time in perspective.

  8. They told me to follow the science yet there is no consensus on the time speeding up phenomenon. All I know is that my physical experience is more rich and meaningful because I have faith that when my time is up, I will no longer be bound by the limits of time.

  9. It is a strange companion we travel through Life with,
    this rapscalion Time.
    In our early youth, she demurs and seems to take forever to pass,
    But yet, when we learn the ropes of Life,
    this temptress, Time, seems to take on a hurried gate.
    Even then, we often find that she has tricked us and ran on ahead,
    Surprising us with fleeting moments
    which flit from now to yesterday to yesteryear in a blink.
    As we learn enough to sit in wisdom
    and contemplate Time’s journey at our side,
    We yearn for the frolic of youth when she seemed to take forever,
    Yet even now we give homage to Time for remaining with us,
    And offering us whatever yesterdays and tomorrows that she so deigns.

    K. Ready circa 2021

  10. My mom has always complained about how everyday felt faster and what seemed to be happened a long time ago she said she swore happened last week. I’m in ninth grade now and I know I’m younger than most people here, but I feel like my mom was right and time does feel so much faster obviously not that everything is speeding up it’s just that I swore I only started processing January to March 2021 and now it’s December, I don’t remember experiencing any other month only doing little things here and there, but certainly not enough memories for 9 months. I don’t like how I am just watching life pass me before I can realize it and I try hard to remember my experiences so I have a time stamp to sort of return to it and know that that month actually happened. Maybe it was the pandemic but I was just 12 in March 2020 and now I’m going to graduate freshman year.

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