Time does not slow in crisis situations

December 12th, 2007 - 1:30 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, December 12 (ANI): Accident victims often report experiencing the mishap in slow motion. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston have now found evidence that this experience is a result of a trick of the peoples memory.

The researchers, who studied how volunteers experience time when they free-fall 100 feet into a net below, say that their findings are contrary to the suggestion that time slows down during crisis situations.

People commonly report that time seemed to move in slow motion during a car accident. Does the experience of slow motion really happen, or does it only seem to have happened in retrospect? The answer is critical for understanding how time is represented in the brain, said Dr. David Eagleman, assistant professor of neuroscience and psychiatry and behavioural sciences at BCM.

In their study, the researchers involved Suspended Catch Air Device diving, a controlled free-fall system in which divers were dropped backwards off a platform 150 feet up and landed safely in a net. Divers were not attached to ropes, and reached 70 miles per hour during the three-second fall.

The study was conducted in two parts. In one experiment, the participants were asked to reproduce with a stopwatch how long it took someone else to fall, and then how long their own fall seemed to have lasted.

The researcher found that people in general estimated that their own fall appeared 36 per cent longer than that of their compatriots.

A watch-like unit called the perceptual chronometer, which showed numbers flickered on its screen, was strapped on the volunteers wrists. The speed of this flickering was adjusted until it was too fast for the divers to see.

The researchers were of the opinion that just in case time perception really slowed, the flickering numbers would appear slow enough for the divers to easily read while in free-fall.

It was observed that while the subjects were able to read numbers presented at normal speeds during the free-fall, they could not read them at faster-than-normal speeds.

We discovered that people are not like Neo in The Matrix, dodging bullets in slow-mo. The paradox is that it seemed to participants as though their fall took a long time. The answer to the paradox is that time estimation and memory are intertwined: the volunteers merely thought the fall took a longer time in retrospect, Eagleman said.

He further said that during a frightening event, a brain area called the amygdala becomes more active, laying down a secondary set of memories that go along with those normally taken care of by other parts of the brain.

In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories. And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took, he said.

Based on their findings, the researchers came to the conclusion that a persons perception of time is not a single phenomenon that speeds or slows.

They have even verified their conclusion in laboratory experiments, wherein the subjects were made to observe on the computer screen flashes like a shoe, a shoe, a flower, and a shoe.

The viewers believed that a flower stayed on the screen longer, even though all flashes remained on the screen for the same duration.

It can seem as though an event has taken an unusually long time, but it doesnt mean your immediate experience of time actually expands. It simply means that when you look back on it, you believe it to have taken longer, Eagleman said.

This is related to the phenomenon that time seems to speed up as you grow older. When youre a child, you lay down rich memories for all your experiences; when your older, youve seen it all before and lay down fewer memories. Therefore, when a child looks back at the end of a summer, it seems to have lasted forever; adults think it zoomed by, he added.

The study has been reported online in the journal Public Library of Science One. (ANI)

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