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.

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  • 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.

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Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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It looks like a busy hurricane season ahead. Probably.

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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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