Why does time fly?

Why does time seem to move faster the older you get? NPR's All Things Considered tackles some of the theories behind this phenomenon, which is reported all over the world, regardless of culture. One plus: A Duke researcher says things slow down again once you hit your 60s and 70s. (Via, Mocost)


  1. I think there is something to the “first time” feels longer idea. I have always noticed that, when driving someplace new, I am acutely aware of the passage of time as I make my way to the destination. Once having come and gone a few times, what was a 30 minute trip starts to feel like 10 minutes. I have already digested the new sights and sounds along the way and the autopilot kicks in.

    I think also that, until adulthood, our lives are measured out in even increments of semesters, school years, summer vacations- with each bringing on new circumstances and situations. As we enter the adult world our lives are segmented less by fixed repetition of change. We measure the passage of time by changes in job, relationship status, apartments/houses lived in- none of which turn over with the same regularity that school imposed.

  2. Pretty obvious answer without any research is that time is relative. If you’ve lived 60 years, a year is shorter than if you’re 10. Remember when you were in school and LAST school year seemed like FOREVER ago?

  3. …and then there is the phenomena of feeling as if you read the whole article before making your comment, only to then realize that your anecdote was already clearly used in the link itself. In this case, my time spent skimming the article felt longer than the actual time I should’ve spent reading it more carefully.

  4. How about the “percentage of a whole” thing? When you’re 10, one year is 10% of your life so far — so of course it seems to last forever. When you’re 50, one year is only 2% of your life so far, so it seems a lot shorter.

  5. I have to disagree with the theory. One example where this is not the case is a roadtrip where you are a passenger. As a child, a 4 hour long roadtrip was hell; every second was a challenge in surviving the unbearable pangs of boredom, whereas today, even without conversation, the mind occupies its space, and thus time, with concerns, memories, ideas, etc.

    I would propose a different theory, where, as we grow, our minds evolve, by virtue of the neural connections made and the way in which we process information, to best fit the world around us. This world is usually one where we perform complex planning and future thinking; by constantly occupying our mind with thoughts, we are not simply reacting to whats around us, as children, and therefore we perceive time to be passing faster.

  6. I’ve often thought that this phenomena may be one of the reasons older people seem to move so slowly. As time has speeded up for them, they feel like they are moving really fast, but in fact, are moving in slow motion in the eyes of younger people.

  7. Scaling factor. When you’re 10, a year is 10% of your life; that’s a Long Time. When you’re 50, it’s only 2%. The decay curve is fairly steep at the beginning, flattening out as you go.

    Time slowing down again at/after retirement… I suspect that’s due less to time changing than to more time actually being available; a day *IS* a longer time when the amount of waking time available for your own projects has doubled.

    1. The scaling factor has always been my pet hypothesis. As for it going the other way after a certain age — I’ve heard folks of that age talk about how things 40, 50, 60 years ago seem more recent than they felt before as well. Perhaps a feature of increasing nostalgia, or lacunae in memory associated with advancing age. It’d be interesting to see if there’s any other correlations.

  8. It’s clearly due to inactivity in Shatner’s Bassoon. The opposite effect is encountered after ingesting large quantities of Cake.

  9. It’s a good article, but on the whole I think kids minds just move faster – maybe not as smartly or accurately or as deeply – but they definitely move faster.

    To put this in metaphorical film terms, instead of seeing 29 frames per second the way a grown-up does or 15 frames per second the way an elderly person might, they take in 40 frames per second. And that’s why everything we adults enjoy seem so slow and boring.

  10. To me, time seems to slow down with mindfulness, which seems to be more prevalent in children, beginners, and the wise. And less prevalent in blog comments :)

  11. This is something I have been thinking about for some time. My theory: the young mind is processing much of what is experienced consciously (that is, they actually have to think about standing upright and making the spoon hit the mouth), and thus events are all presenting themselves to the mind. This causes each moment to be filled with events that must be inspected by the mind to understand, and time crawls because the mind is so busy.

    As we age and gain experience, more and more events are not surfaced to the mind – they are intercepted by subconcious processes that ‘recognize’ the pattern and only present an abbreviation of the experience to the active mind. Less of the ‘bandwidth’ of the conscious mind is occupied by the data from the passing events which are barely even noticed. The conscious mind has less direct external new experiences to process, so time seems to fly by.

    At least, this is my theory and it is mine. Ah hem.

    – JSinAZ

  12. Scaling factor as in #7, along with memory stuffed with an ever-increasing pile of experience, combine to decrease the relative importance of events which are perceived to happen at relatively decreasing intervals, exacerbated by an increasing tendency of less-reliable short-term memory.

  13. Asking this is like asking why chairs seemed taller when we were younger. We had few inches, the chair had many. As things went on, we gained more inches, but the chair did not With time, the older we get, we gain months, but a year does not. Comparatively the year gets shorter, just like the chair did.

    But more philosophically, it seems unreasonable to objectively be able to measure a thing we can only know subjectively.

  14. Time appears to go faster as you get older because it does go faster as you get older. This is natural consequence of Relativity Theory.

    In the presence of a gravitational field time slows down. The universe is expanding, hence becoming less dense. Gravity is on average getting weaker and therefore time speeds up. It’s a fundamental law of nature.

    The real question is why are we aware of time speeding up?

  15. I’ve never understood this. True, it happens all over the world, but it’s also true that people all over the world have reported seeing ghosts, UFOs, pixies, and the like.

    I’m in my mid-30s, but I’ve never felt as if time is speeding by any faster today than it was 20 years ago. A day goes by at exactly the same speed… one day at a time. I think it’s an interesting phenomenon, but I feel the same way about O Milagre do Sol.

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