Depression Distorts People’s Perception of Time, Study Finds

The curious effect of depression on time perception.

The curious effect of depression on time perception.

Most people experience differences in how time is perceived, with or without depression.

For example, 10 minutes in the dentist’s waiting-room can seem like an hour.

While an enjoyable conversation with a good friend can pass in the blink of an eye.

What a new study finds, though, is that depressed people have a general feeling that time is passing more slowly, or even that it has stopped.

Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel, one of the study’s authors, said:

“Psychiatrists and psychologists in hospitals and private practices repeatedly report that depressed patients feel that time only creeps forward slowly or is passing in slow motion.

The results of our analysis confirm that this is indeed the case.”

The strange part is what happens when people with depression are asked to judge intervals of time.

For example, they are asked to watch a movie and estimate its length.

Or they are asked to press a button after five seconds has passed.

When tests compare people with and without depression, there is no difference.

Depressed people are just as accurate at judging intervals of time.

Dr. Daniel Oberfeld-Twistel said:

“We found strong indicators that in depressed individuals the subjective feeling of the passage of time differs from the ability to assess the actual duration of external events.”

Scientists are still not sure exactly why people with depression have the feeling that times is dragging, although it seems intuitive enough.

It may be, though, due to the way depressed people focus on time passing.

People without depression, when engaged in activities, may find time passes more quickly because they are absorbed in the task.

People with depression, though, may concentrate more on the passage of time, making it feel longer.

The research — a ‘meta-analysis’ of other studies — is published in the Journal of Affective Disorders (Thönes & Oberfeld-Twistel, 2015).

Clock image from Shutterstock

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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