For many adults, the phrase “time flies” becomes increasingly relatable as the years go by. What once felt like a vast expanse of time during childhood can seem to rush by in adulthood.
Although a concrete answer still eludes the scientific community regarding this sensation, some theories have emerged. Cindy Lustig, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, shared her insights with DailyMail.com. She said, “‘One is that when we are older, we tend to have lives that are more structured around routines, and fewer of the big landmark events that we use to demarcate different epochs of the ‘time of our lives.'”
Lustig continued to explain that when compared to the vast new experiences in childhood, our adult lives often offer fewer novel moments to reflect upon. A year for a five-year-old, representing 20% of their life, is filled with fresh discoveries. For a 50-year-old, the same span is just 2% of their life, and usually consists of fewer new experiences. “Our brains combine similar days and weeks, which seems like everything blends together,” Lustig added, emphasizing that people tend to measure time by memorable events.
In contrast, another theory has been proposed by Adrian Bejan at Duke University. His research from 2019 posits that the feeling of time speeding up is related to the aging of the brain. As our brains age, they require more time to process new mental images, thus skewing our perception of experiences. “Over the years, these structures become more complex and eventually begin to degrade, creating more resistance to the electrical signals they receive,” Bejan explained. The physical changes in the neural structures heavily influence our time perception, according to his research.
Bejan went on to describe that younger individuals, like infants, process images at a much quicker rate, resulting in the sensation of a longer day. In contrast, older individuals process fewer images in the same timeframe, making experiences seem to pass rapidly.
However, Lustig raised questions about Bejan’s perspective, pointing out to DailyMail.com, “He makes some argument about the length of the optic nerve related to head size, and I will let you judge whether an 80-year-old has a substantially larger head than a 25-year-old.” She hinted at other discrepancies in his view, reinforcing the depth and complexity of the topic at hand.