The Anderson Institute Logo 
   Where history is becoming an experimental science      
Innovation and Excellence in Time Technology The Official Site of the World Encyclopedia of Time, the Time Shop, and the Time Research Association.    
  Home  |  About Us  |  Educational Resources  |  Encyclopedia  |  The Time Shop  |  Time Research Association  |  Contact Us

Perception of Time


This common experience was used to familiarize the general public to the ideas presented by Einstein's theory of relativity in a 1930 cartoon by Sidney "George" Strube:

Man: Well, it's like this,—supposing I were to sit next to a pretty girl for half an hour it would seem like half a minute,—
Einstein: Braffo! You haf zee ideah!
Man: But if I were to sit on a hot stove for two seconds then it would seem like two hours.

A form of temporal illusion verifiable by experiment is the kappa effect, whereby time intervals between visual events are perceived as relatively longer or shorter depending on the relative spatial positions of the events. In other words: the perception of temporal intervals appears to be directly affected, in these cases, by the perception of spatial intervals.

One hour to a six-month-old person would be approximately "1:4368", while one hour to a 40-year-old would be "1:349,440". Therefore an hour appears much longer to a young child than to an aged adult, even though the measure of time is the same.

Altered states of consciousness

Altered states of consciousness are sometimes characterized by a different estimation of time. Some psychoactive substances – such as entheogens – may also dramatically alter a person's temporal judgment. When viewed under the influence of such substances as LSD, psychedelic mushrooms, and peyote, a clock may appear to be a strange reference point and a useless tool for measuring the passage of events as it does not correlate with the user's experience. At higher doses, time may appear to slow down, stop, speed up, go backwards and even seem out of sequence. A typical thought might be "I can't believe it's only 8 o'clock, but then again, what does 8 o'clock mean?" As the boundaries for experiencing time are removed, so is its relevance. Many users claim this unbounded timelessness feels like a glimpse into spiritual infinity. Marijuana, a milder psychedelic, may also distort the perception of time to a lesser degree.


Culture is another variable contributing to the perception of time. Anthropologist Benjamin Lee Whorf reported after studying the Hopi cultures that: "… the Hopi language is seen to contain no words, grammatical forms, construction or expressions or that refer directly to what we call “time”, or to past, present, or future…"

Use of time

In sociology and anthropology, time discipline is the general name given to social and economic rules, conventions, customs, and expectations governing the measurement of time, the social currency and awareness of time measurements, and people's expectations concerning the observance of these customs by others.

The use of time is an important issue in understanding human behavior, education, and travel behavior. Time use research is a developing field of study. The question concerns how time is allocated across a number of activities (such as time spent at home, at work, shopping, etc.). Time use changes with technology, as the television or the Internet created new opportunities to use time in different ways. However, some aspects of time use are relatively stable over long periods of time, such as the amount of time spent traveling to work, which despite major changes in transport, has been observed to be about 20-30 minutes one-way for a large number of cities over a long period of time. This has led to the disputed time budget hypothesis.

Time management is the organization of tasks or events by first estimating how much time a task will take to be completed, when it must be completed, and then adjusting events that would interfere with its completion so that completion is reached in the appropriate amount of time. Calendars and day planners are common examples of time management tools.

Arlie Russell Hochschild and Norbert Elias have written on the use of time from a sociological perspective.