Look how time flies . . .

By Robert Adler TIME really does zip past faster as you get older, psychologists have shown. They have found that people over 60 tend to think that events happened much longer ago than they really did. To study how the perception of time varies with age, Susan Crawley, a postgraduate student at Goldsmith’s College in London, and her colleague Linda Pring asked people aged between 18 and 77 to date events that hit the headlines. These included the invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the Challenger disaster in 1986 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Volunteers younger than 60 dated the events surprisingly accurately, although they tended to remember events as occurring slightly more recently than they actually did. But the over-60 group placed some events up to 50 per cent too far back, even though they recalled them as vividly as younger people. “Some events they were able to date spot on,” says Crawley. “But others, such as the Hungerford massacre, they dated six-and-a-half years too early.” Overall, the older group nudged less well remembered events from 1977 to 1989 back by an average of 15 months—nearly 10 per cent. Crawley thinks the accelerated sense of time may stem in part from the repetition of events, such as birthdays or holidays. “Each year they’re more familiar, so it seems as though they just happened,” she says. And if experiences seem to be whizzing by, the time that must have elapsed since a major event may be overestimated. Peter Mangan from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, who studies the effect of age on the perception of very short time periods, says the result shows how striking the impact of age on the sense of time is. “It’s as if the whole concept of time is different for older people,” he says. More on these topics:
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