Sunday, November 12, 2006

Time "flies"...time is a "drag": Temporal awareness

[Double click on image to enlarge]

"Boy..time just flew"
......or......."time just seemed to drag on, and on, and on."

What are some possible explanations for these different subjective perceptions of time? According to Zakay (1992; I drew this information from a chapter by Wearden), the answer may lie in the construct of temporal awareness, which is derived from how important time is during a task (temporal relevance) and how much uncertainty an individual has about the duraton of certain events (temporal uncertainty)

As per Wearden's chapter (note - examine the model figure above to help understand the text--italics emphasis are the blogmasters):

  • "According to Zakay, some real-life situation is judged by the participant on the basis of past experience or expectation, in terms of two-dimensions: temporal relevance (how important time is in the task), and temporal uncertainty (how much uncertainty the participant has about the time of event occurrences, or their duration). The outcome variable in Zakay’s model is “temporal awareness”: if this is high, then the passage of time seems very slow (time seems to “drag”), whereas if it is low, then time can seem to “fly.” A situation judged to have very low temporal relevance will induce little temporal awareness, and the passage of time will be subjectively rapid (although a subsequent retrospective time judgment may be long). A high level of temporal relevance can be associated with high or low level levels of temporal uncertainty. Even if the time of some event is critical, then temporal awareness is reduced if uncertainty is reduced (by providing cues as to when the event will occur, for example, or in conditions where things “run like clockwork”). High levels of temporal relevance coupled with high levels of temporal uncertainty produce a high level of temporal awareness, where a person focuses continually on the passage of time, which consequently seems very slow. Consistent with these ideas, “waiting room” situations produce high temporal awareness, and consequently time seems to drag in them, because (a) time is highly relevant, when waiting for a train or plane, for example, and (b) the exact moment when the train, or plane, arrives can be uncertain, particularly in error-prone transport systems such as the UK-railways at the time of writing."
  • "An important variable might be the amount of attention allocated to temporal and nontemporal aspects of situations (see Brown, 1997, for a review of research). If a person can maintain attention on something other than the passage of time (watching an exciting film, for example), then temporal awareness may be reduced, and time may seem to fly during the time period.
So....the next time you are in a situation where time seems to "drag on, and on, and on....", or, conversely, time seems to "fly"...if you are wondering why you have such different subjective perceptions, remember the above model figure and do a self-assessment of your level of "temporal awareness" might, at least, help you cognitively cope/understand with your time perceptions.

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