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Does Time Slow In A Crisis

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  • medit8ionsociety
    In The Matrix, hero Neo wins his battles when time slows in the simulated world. In the real world, accident victims often report a similar slowing as they
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 13, 2007
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      In The Matrix, hero Neo wins his battles
      when time slows in the simulated world.
      In the real world, accident victims often
      report a similar slowing as they slide
      unavoidably into disaster. But can humans
      really experience events in slow motion?

      Apparently not, said researchers at Baylor
      College of Medicine in Houston, who studied
      how volunteers experience time when they
      free-fall 100 feet into a net below. Even
      though participants remembered their own
      falls as having taken one-third longer than
      those of the other study participants, they
      were not able to see more events in time.
      Instead, the longer duration was a trick of
      their memory, not an actual slow-motion
      experience. The study appears online today
      in the journal Public Library of Science One.

      "People commonly report that time seemed to
      move in slow motion during a car accident,"
      said Dr. David Eagleman, assistant professor
      of neuroscience and psychiatry and behavioral
      sciences at BCM. "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."

      When roller coasters and other scary amusement
      park rides did not cause enough fear to make
      "time slow down," Eagleman and his graduate
      students Chess Stetson and Matthew Fiesta
      sought out something even more frightening.
      They hit upon Suspended Catch Air Device diving,
      a controlled free-fall system in which "divers"
      are dropped backwards off a platform 150 feet
      up and land safely in a net. Divers are not
      attached to ropes and reach 70 miles per hour
      during the three-second fall.

      "It's the scariest thing I have ever done," said
      Eagleman. "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."

      The experiment consisted of two parts. In one, the
      researchers asked participants to reproduce with a
      stopwatch how long it took someone else to fall,
      and then how long their own fall seemed to have
      lasted. In general, people estimated that their own
      fall appeared 36 percent longer than that of their

      However, to determine whether that distortion
      meant they could actually see more events happening
      in time - like a camera in slow motion - Eagleman
      and his students developed a special device called
      the perceptual chronometer that was strapped to
      the volunteers' wrists. Numbers flickered on the
      screen of the watch-like unit. The scientists
      adjusted the speed at which the numbers flickered
      until it was too fast for the divers to see.

      They theorized that if time perception really slowed,
      the flickering numbers would appear slow enough for
      the divers to easily read while in free-fall.

      They found 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," he said.

      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," Eagleman explained.

      The study allowed them to deduce that a person's
      perception of time is not a single phenomenon
      that speeds or slows. "Your brain is not like a
      video camera," said Eagleman.

      Eagleman and his team have been able to verify
      this conclusion in the laboratory. In an experiment
      that appeared in a recent issue of PLoS One,
      Eagleman and graduate student Vani Pariyadath
      used 'oddballs' in a sequence to bring about a
      similar duration distortion. For example, when
      they flashed on the computer screen a shoe, a
      shoe, a shoe, a flower and a shoe, viewers believed
      the flower stayed on the screen longer, even though
      it remained there the same amount of time as the shoes.

      Pariyadath and Eagleman showed that even though
      durations are distorted during the oddball, other
      aspects of time - such as flickering lights or
      accompanying sounds - do not change.

      The conclusion from both studies was the same.

      "It can seem as though an event has taken an
      unusually long time, but it doesn't 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 you're
      a child, you lay down rich memories for all your
      experiences; when your 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."

      Article adapted by Medical News Today from original press
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