Why does it feel like time goes quicker as you get older?

2 August 2018, 15:41

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By Tom Eames

If it feels like it was yesterday that you were opening Christmas presents (in 2014), then you're not alone.

When you were a kid at school, no doubt a few years felt like they lasted for decades. Whereas when you're in your 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, a decade seems to last a few months in comparison.

There are actually some scientific theories behind why we perceive time to go much faster as we get older.

Dr Christian ‘Kit’ Yates, a lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath, wrote about why this is the case in The Conversation.

Here's why this annoyance occurs:

1. Biology

"The theory goes that the older we get, the more familiar we become with our surroundings. We don’t notice the detailed environments of our homes and workplaces," Dr Yates explained.

For kids, the world still feels new, and so they use more brain power to take in what's happening.

"The theory suggests that this appears to make time run more slowly for children than for adults stuck in a routine," the lecturer explained.

It is said that the more a person is stimulated by their surroundings (as in not familiar with a general everyday routine), they release the 'happy hormone' dopamine.

By the time we reach the age of 20, dopamine levels start dropping, and continue to do so as we age. This also contributes to time being perceived as moving faster.

Time
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2. Maths

"The idea is that we perceive a period of time as the proportion of time we have already lived through," said Dr Yates.

Using the example of a toddler: "To a two-year-old, a year is half of their life, which is why it seems such an extraordinary long period of time to wait between birthdays when you are young.

"To a ten-year-old, a year is only 10% of their life, (making for a slightly more tolerable wait). To a 20-year-old it is only 5%.

"For a 20-year-old to experience the same proportional increase in age that a two-year-old experiences between birthdays [ie, half their life], they would have to wait until they turned 30. Given this viewpoint it’s not surprising that time appears to accelerate as we grow older."

Any words of hope, Dr Yates?

"The five-year period you experienced between the ages of five and ten could feel just as long as the period between the ages of 40 and 80," he wrote.

Lesson learned: Let's make sure we make the most of life, because this research emphasises just how short it is.