Perceptions of Time

I was just watching Daily Planet, and Jay Ingram described something called the “tourist illusion”. You’ve probably experienced it before: you drive to a new place, and then back again on the same route, and the trip back seems to be much faster.

It’s an effect that deals with human perception, and can be demonstrated in other ways as well. Commercials are generally 30 seconds long, but the first time you see a new commercial, it seems much longer than every time after that.

Subjective time, or the tourist illusion

Many people who are involved in a terrifying situation such as a car crash will often say “it happened so slowly” while at the same time someone witnessing the accident will say it happened very quickly. Psychologist Dr David Eagleman, of the University of Texas, did a very interesting experiment to try and test if time in fact does seem to slow down for the person involved. He had people do a backwards 33-meter freefall while looking at special LED watch that flicked blindingly fast between two numbers. The idea was simple: see if the person could read the numbers while jumping. Amazingly, the jumper was able to almost see the numbers (he said 96 instead of 98)