Why Time Seems to Slow Down in Moments of Danger

To find out if danger makes people experience time in slow motion, David Eagleman and colleagues sent volunteers tumbling down on a free-fall from great heights:

To see if danger makes people experience time in slow motion, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston tried scaring volunteers. However, roller coasters and other frightening amusement park rides did not cause enough fear to make time warp.

Instead, the researchers dropped volunteers from great heights. Scientists had volunteers dive backward with no ropes attached, into a special net that helped break their fall. They reached 70 mph during the roughly three-second, 150-foot drop.

"It's the scariest thing I have ever done," said researcher David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine. "I knew it was perfectly safe, and I also knew that it would be the perfect way to make people feel as though an event took much longer than it actually did."

Indeed, volunteers estimated their own fall lasted about a third longer than dives they saw other volunteers take.

Sure enough, people perceived time to slow down, but it wasn't because they became hyper aware. Rather, it was an illusion of memory:

When a person is scared, a brain area called the amygdala becomes more active, laying down an extra 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," Eagleman explained. "And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took."

Eagleman added this illusion "is related to the phenomenon that time seems to speed up as you grow older. When you're a child, you lay down rich memories for all your experiences; when you're older, you've 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."

Link (Photo: David Eagleman)

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I absolutely remember summer afternoons that I thoroughly enjoyed that lasted a long time. I remember the times in early fall after school. I would only have a couple hours of sun, but I would do so much. Now it seems like there is so little I can do in that amount of time enjoyable or not.
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When I started skydiving, my brain actually went into overload the first 3 or 4 times I jumped out of the plane. I couldn't recall anything of the few seconds before I found myself hanging in the lines; and my teacher told me that this was to be expected. The first few jumps are there to train your brain to just take this level of excitement and prepare you for opening your parachute on your own.

So, if I were to be dropped from such a hight (without all those skydiving experience, of course), I probably wouldn't remember anything of the fall...
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