Time passes faster for meditators, leaves them unable to accurately judge time

Focusing on the present moment has some strange effects on how people estimate stretches of time.

Time passes faster for meditators, leaves them unable to accurately judge time
Pixabay
  • A recent study asked people to estimate short and long intervals of time after completing a mindfulness meditation exercise.
  • The results showed that all the participants reported that time seemed to pass more quickly than it did in reality.
  • Neuroscience research shows that meditation can help reduce anxiety and increase happiness.


In mindfulness meditation, you try to focus all your attention on the present moment. Doing so can help you reduce anxiety and depression, and change the ways in which different parts of your brain communicate with each other, according to neuroscience research. Now, a new paper suggests that mindfulness meditation can also change the way you perceive time.

The paper, published in the journal PLoS One on October 18, describes a set of experiments that included participants who were trained in mindfulness meditation over seven days. In the first test, one group of participants meditated for 30 minutes, and another group did a control exercise in which they listened to an audio recording of someone reading poetry. After completing their assigned tasks, both groups were asked to estimate the duration of short and long time intervals (15 to 50 seconds or two to six minutes).

All the participants in the meditation group said that time seemed to pass more quickly. That finding echoed past studies which showed that people report time passing quickly when they're multitasking; perhaps that's why it can seem the workday flies by when we're busy.

Attention and time perception

The researchers suggested that mindfulness meditation, which often requires concentrated effort, takes up too much of their attentional resources, leaving meditators unable to accurately judge time. Indeed, compared to the control group, the meditators were more likely to underestimate the short durations and, curiously, overestimate the long ones.

"This reversal in the direction of the time judgment for the different temporal scales suggests that different processes might underlie the judgment of short and long durations in the same meditation condition," the researchers wrote.

In a second experiment, the researchers replicated the findings of the first experiment, and also asked participants about the meditation experience to examine potential relationships between time distortion and other factors. The results showed that, compared to the control group, the meditators reported less anxiety and more happiness and present-moment awareness — expected results, based on the research literature on meditation.

Droit-Volet et. al

The researchers wrote:

"The statistical analyses revealed that time was judged to pass faster when the participants felt calmer and when their attention was focused on the exercise and the present moment, the two being obviously linked. Therefore, the more attention was focused on the required exercise, the longer the interval dedicated to this exercise was considered to be, and the faster external time was judged to pass."

But it's possible that the results would've turned out differently if the experiments had examined more experienced meditators, considering they might process meditation differently than the participants who'd been trained over the course of one week, the researchers noted.

How to practice mindfulness meditation

It doesn't take years of experience to reap the benefits of mindfulness meditation (or any kind of meditation you wish to pursue). If you want to try mindfulness meditation, consider following these steps from mindful.org:
  1. Take a seat wherever is most comfortable to you
  2. Notice what your legs are doing. If seated on the floor, consider crossing your legs. If in a chair, it's good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor.
  3. Straighten — but don't stiffen — your upper body.
  4. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Then let your hands drop onto the tops of your legs. With your upper arms at your sides, your hands will land in the right spot. Too far forward will make you hunch. Too far back will make you stiff. You're tuning the strings of your body — not too tight and not too loose.
  5. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. If you'd like to keep your eyes open, try not to focus on anything in the field of vision.
  6. Relax and bring your attention to your breath or the sensations in your body.
  7. Draw your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
  8. Your mind will inevitably wander. Just try to regain focus, and don't try to eliminate thoughts.
  9. Practice pausing before making any physical adjustments, such as moving your body or scratching an itch. With intention, shift at a moment you choose, allowing space between what you experience and what you choose to do.
  10. Don't get frustrated or judgmental if your mind is constantly wandering. It's normal.
  11. When you're ready, gently lift your gaze, and notice how you feel.

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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