Irish professor explains why time goes by so much faster as we get older

Children and older people

An Irish professor has explained why time seems to fly by so much faster as we get older.

When we were young the summer holidays seemed to last forever as one long nonstop adventure until we finally had to go back to school.

On the other hand, as we get older a couple of months can seem to disappear in the blink of an eye.

Associate professor at Trinity College Dublin, Andrew Jackson thinks he knows why that is.

It’s nothing to do with youngsters having sponge like brains that soak up every new experience. Nor is it because a month is an ever-smaller percentage of our lives as we age.

Instead, Prof Jackson has a far more mechanical explanation, and surprisingly, it is linked to our inability to swat away pesky flies that invade our kitchens in the summer.

This is to do with the way our eyes and brains allow us to see the world as we do.

Rather than experiencing our surroundings as one long flowing video that it appears to be, our sight actually works by taking individual still images from our eyes, which our brain puts together into the continuous stream that we see.

The eye sends images to the brain at a fixed rate per second in distinct flashes. Humans see 60 flashes per second, which is the ‘flicker-fusion frequency’ for our species.

Flicker-fusion frequency is the number of images we need to process in order to experience the world in a continuous stream and it is not the same for every animal.

For example, a fly sees 250 flashes per second – more than four times as many as humans.

This effectively makes us appear to move in slow motion from a fly’s perspective and is why it is so difficult for us to swat them away.

Interestingly, Prof Jackson says that this could also explain why children experience time so much slower than adults.

He said: “It’s tempting to think that for children time moves more slowly than it does for grownups, and there is some evidence that it might.

“People have shown in humans that flicker fusion frequency is related to a person’s subjective perception of time, and it changes with age. It’s certainly faster in children.”

The Professor added that flicker fusion frequency is different far all animals and as a general rule of thumb, the smaller the animal, the higher flicker fusion frequency it will have.

He said: “A lot of researchers have looked at this in different animals by measuring their perception of flickering light. Some can perceive quite a fast flicker and others much slower, so that a flickering light looks like a blur.

“Interestingly, there’s a large difference between big and small species. Animals smaller than us see the world in slo-mo. It seems to be almost a fact of life. Our focus was on vertebrates, but if you look at flies, they can perceive light flickering up to four times faster than we can. You can imagine a fly literally seeing everything in slow motion.”

So remember next time your little ones have a tantrum at the supermarket, they feel like they have been there for far longer than you may realise.


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Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcallingJoin our community