It seems unfair that time flies when you're having fun, but drones on at a snail's pace when you're bored. But what if you could somehow alter how you perceive the passage of time? For instance, imagine if you could make time pass quickly while you were at work, but pass slowly on the weekends. Well, thanks to a breakthrough discovery by brain researchers at the University of Minnesota, there may soon be a pill for that.
Scientists Geoffrey Ghose and Blaine Schneider have unveiled new research that suggests that the brain's time-keeping mechanisms are decentralized, reports New Scientist. What this means is that rather than having a central internal "clock" that resides over your whole brain, the different regions of your brain each have their own individual "clocks." This helps to explain why time seems to pass differently depending on your mood or circumstance, but it also means something more profound: that it could soon be possible to artificially manipulate how you perceive time.
The researchers reached their conclusions by training two rhesus macaques to perform tasks in which they moved their eyes between two dots on a screen at regular one-second intervals. The monkeys were given no other cues to keep track of time with. After three months, they learned to move their eyes between the two dots with average intervals of 1.003 and 0.973 seconds respectively.
Electrodes were then used to record brain activity across neurons associated with eye movement. It was found that neuron activity decreased during the interval between each eye movement, and that the rate of decrease correlated with the monkeys' sense of timing. Researchers were then able to test the results by observing how the monkeys would overestimate or underestimate the length of time as the variables were altered.
The research could help to explain why some people with brain disorders like Parkinson's have difficulty keeping time. But the longview of the research also offers hints about how and why our emotional states alter our perception of time. As the findings unfold, it ought to be possible to manipulate these states to change how time is perceived. In other words, in the future there may actually be pills you can take to alter your perception of time just like there are mind-altering pills for various other purposes.
"Given the promising findings, it would certainly be of value to investigate human performance on this task," said Catherine Jones of the University of Essex.
Related on MNN: If you really want to mess with your sense of time, watch 'This is Our Planet'