If you're confused about the passage of time, you’re not alone. We know that each hour is divided into 60 equal minutes, and each minute into 60 identical seconds; but why do some hours feel longer than others? And is the pandemic changing our perception of time?
Dr. Ruth Ogden aims to answer these questions in her research, she tells Ray D’Arcy. She also has a few practical tips on making the passage of time more bearable in lockdown.
Dr. Ogden is an Associate Professor specialising in Experimental Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University. Her research covers the UK and Argentina during the pandemic and it’s already yielded some incredible results about how people’s perception of time has altered during the past year or so:
"Only 20% of the people that we surveyed reported experiencing a normal passage of time during the pandemic."
Of people who said that they felt time was passing differently to before Covid, Dr. Ogden's research found they were split evenly on the speed question:
"About half of people who experienced distortions of time felt like it was passing more quickly than normal and about half of the people felt it was passing more slowly than normal. For me, that was the really surprising thing"
Dr. Ruth says she falls into the 'passing more slowly’ camp: "My lockdown experience with three children has been that there are more than 24 hours in the day."
So what is "normal"? Dr. Ogden explained to Ray how time perception used to work under non-pandemic circumstances. She says we link time to our activities, and in that way, a predictable routine keeps us aware of where we are in time and how it is passing:
"All these activities, they tell us what day it is, without having to look at a calendar. So we know it’s a Tuesday, because we are doing Tuesday things. But they also hold us in time in the day. So you can kind of know what time it is by how you’re feeling and what you’re doing."
The coronavirus has up-ended our routines to such an extent, Dr. Ogden says, that we've also become detached from our former perceptions of time:
"We’ve really lost all the little cues in our life, the markers in our life that help to keep us in time."
Research at John Moores University carried out during the second lockdown in England has found a correlation between degrees of depression and perceptions of the pace of the lockdown, as Dr. Ruth explains:
"The higher someone’s level of depression, the slower their lockdown was."
Dr. Ogden says there are ways to correct the balance, at least partly, and to find a renewed sense of connection to time that feels more manageable:
"If you feel like you’re struggling with losing track of what day it is, what time it is, or just generally with your mental health, one of my top tips is to try and create some structure for yourself. So try and create a routine within each day, but also across the days. Working from home makes it hard to get that definition between the week and the weekend."
Creating boundaries for yourself between what is "work time" and what is "leisure time" wasn’t as necessary pre-Covid, says Dr. Ogden, but most of us will benefit from drawing those lines for ourselves as best we can.
Another thing that can help, she says, is to use our clothing to distinguish between work and play, as we would have done automatically in the past:
"It’s a change of state, isn’t it? We sort of are the things that we dress ourselves as, and if we are in work mode, it might be nice to wear something different to when we’re in relaxation mode. And that again helps to mark time."
The quality of your social interactions will also improve life in lockdown, and help ward off depression, Dr. Ogden says and she suggests the following:
"Put structure on your life and try and maximise interaction with people that you love."
Dr Ogden talks more about the quality of relationships in the pandemic, links between time and memory and which clichés about time are true and why in the full interview here.