Do you have trouble remembering what day of the week it is? If it ends in y or not? Is your notion of time routed in Gregorian antiquity? If you answered yes to the first one, but ignored the second two, science has some research you might want to take a look at.
After a long weekend, or a coma, it can be hard to pin down what day of the week it is. Time perception experts (yeah, they exist, what's it to you?) weighed in on this hot-button phenomenon. They say it has to do with how a host of factors can affect the way we perceive time (time perception experts, perceiving time, it all comes together).
Psychologist J. Devin McAuley, the director of the Timing, Attention, and Perception (TAP) Lab at Michigan State University, says that we all have an internal clock inside us. This clock is kept wound up, so to speak, by the consistent reminders of environmental and routine cues.
Your internal clock is called your circadian rhythm. Now, when you go about your day, and your body responds physiologically to external cues (lights, subway train schedules, coffee baristas), your brain integrates all that info into your daily routine. If something changes in your daily routine, it feels like time is running more slowly because it takes longer to assimilate the new info into your system.
In fact, the brain is so complexly architected to measure time, that it has multiple areas working in tandem to produce an overall internal conception of time. There are neurons firing to keep track of elapsed time, there's the hippocampus keeping a running memory of time, and the striatum to integrate a lot of other information coming from many parts of the brain.
Even being alone can alter your perception of time. Science writer Claudia Hammond wrote that when people experience seclusion, their perception of time changes. Those who felt secluded because of popularity (like celebrities having to go run and hide in a Dunkin' Donuts bathroom) found time to move quickly. Those who felt rejected or ostracized into seclusion felt time move slow as molasses.
When an environmental cue that the body has become accustomed to expect is absent, delayed, or prolonged, the brain gets thrown for a loop. A major determinant for time perception accuracy is the weekend, says Richard A. Block, a professor emeritus of psychology at Montana State University.
Saturday and Sunday, Block points out, are our anchoring days. One study done in 1973 in Israel backs this up. When the researchers asked college students what day of the week it was, the farther they were from the weekend, the more inaccurate they were. They were farther from their anchors.
The point of all this really is that our brains perceive time in the most incredible and sensational ways. If we just learned to calm down and chill out, we could marvel at our body's own mechanisms for interacting with the world around us. So be like the sloth...