That the experience of time depends on people’s state of mind (a feeling of anticipation can make it appear to go by slowly, while fear or stress can make it seem to pass faster) is already common knowledge to psychologists. However, we had not had data so far regarding the way people with mental disorders perceive the passage of time. Recently, a new analysis of 16 individual studies, collected and compared in a meta-study conducted by psychologists Dr. Sven Thönes and Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel from the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, revealed that patients suffering from depression perceive time as passing more slowly.
The 16 studies upon which the meta-study was based included 433 patients with depression and 485 control subjects. The earliest of the studies dates back to 1977, although interest in the topic stemmed as early as the 1940s. Dr. Oberfeld-Twistel said that many doctors, nurses, and psychologists had noticed depressed people’s complaints that time hardly seems to pass, which is why they conducted the study. Their results confirmed that the subjective perception of time is altered by depression, meaning that people affected by the illness feel that time nearly ceases to advance.
However, depressed persons did not differ significantly from healthy subjects when it came to objective time-approximation. Subjects with depression were able to estimate how many minutes a movie lasts, to press a button for a number of seconds, or to discriminate which of two sounds lasted longer just as precisely as subjects without this mental condition. No significant statistical difference was recorded between the two groups, which means that depressive people’s subjective perception of time-passage does not alter their evaluation of actual time intervals. This proves that there is more than one area in the brain responsible for time estimation. Depression only affects part of these areas.
The studies that Thönes and Oberfeld-Twistel analyzed in their meta-study did not include relevant information about the effects of antidepressants and psychotherapy. Neither were the cases of bipolar disorder included, as far as time-perception is concerned. The authors suggest that future studies are required to establish the difference between subjective time-perception and time-estimation capacities. The findings of the Mainz-based scholars were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
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