A psychological theory helps explain why endless news slows down our perception of time.
Here’s a fact that may be troubling: President Donald Trump’s inauguration was only 24 weeks ago. For many, it feels like a lifetime.
Since the inauguration, there’s been a nonstop avalanche of news: The ongoing FBI investigation into Russia’s influence on our elections, votes to repeal Obamacare, James Comey’s firing and explosive testimony, revelations that Donald Trump Jr. actually took a meeting with a Russian affiliate to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, and on and on. Remember that time Trump shared classified information with the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office? That was two months ago.
And here’s a hypothesis, grounded in psychological theory: The sheer amount of news generated by the Trump administration is warping our perception of time, making it seem like a long trod through thick mud.
The simple explanation: It’s a trick of our memories. The more important things we can remember in a given time period, the more we assume a greater amount of time has passed.
“In general, it seems that passage-of-time judgments are strongly affected by the number and ‘intensity’ of ‘events’ that have occurred in a time period,” John Wearden, a psychologist and author of The Psychology of Time Perception, says in an email. “You'd tend to say that the last few months seemed to last a long time if lots had happened, and to be faster if not much had.”
And it’s not just any memories that make us feel like more time has passed; it’s the more troubling, unusual, and emotionally charged ones that do.
“Yes, jam-packed cycles of important (and problematic) news alter our perception of time,” says Michael Flaherty, a psychology professor at Eckerd College in Florida. Especially if they tug on negative emotions.
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