Why Time Flies...Or Stands Still
Having fun? Time flies! Bored to tears? Time crawls by! The concept of time and how we perceive it is intriguing. Now, scientists have a new theory as to why we experience the passing of time differently and how it's connected to our emotions.
The answer may lie in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra pars compacta, where dopamine-releasing neurons are located. Dopamine, a chemical and neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, is involved in the brain's "reward center" and affects motivation, addiction, learning, and other functions. Damage to the substantia nigra pars compacta is associated with neurological conditions that affect time perception.
In recent animal study, a team of neuroscientists trained mice to perform a task that involved timing—to determine whether the interval between two tones was longer or shorter than 1 ½ seconds—and measured the activity of dopamine neurons in the animals' brains. According to researchers, study results showed a correlation between levels of neural activity and time judgment—a larger increase in activity resulted in an underestimate of time, while a smaller increase resulted in an overestimate.
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