The study of human sense of time is a fascinating area in science, cognitive linguistics and psychology which studies the subjective perception, or sense, of delayed time, which is defined by a person’s personal perception of the time of events. The research of this subject has produced many intriguing results, some of which are discussed below. One of the most intriguing areas of research has been the phenomenon of precocious timing. Although this subject was explored many years ago by Sigmund Freud, it was James Vicary who made it famous.
Vicary set out to demonstrate that people’s perceptions of time are not random. For example, if two people meet on the street, each with a watch in his hands, and each says, “I was thinking of you,” then we can suppose that the first person’s watch was beforehand when he gave the other his watch. Many psychologists and linguists claim that this is simply an optical illusion caused by the difficulty in perceiving time. Others believe that this demonstrates the way in which our human sense of time is structured. It is, they suggest, a way of organizing the world around us rather than letting fate decide its destiny.
Another interesting area of study has been the effect of music on the human sense of time. It is well known that certain kinds of music to help us relax. Some of this has been linked to reducing stress and improving mood. Similarly, certain tones increase the rate of thinking and memory, and they have a calming effect on the brain. Other studies have indicated that different notes enhance the sense of time.
Psychologists argue that our sense of time depends upon many different sources, including the brain activity rhythms of our five senses. When we hear certain sounds, for instance, the auditory nerve impulses are slowed by the vibrations, and they send a message down the auditory nerve to trigger a slower response in our brain. In the case of music, certain rhythms trigger certain rhythms in our brain. It is possible, they believe, to use this knowledge to design time-sensitive events such as music recitals, and to help people juggle multiple tasks at once.
Different sounds have different meanings, but all seem to point to one thing: certain pitches create certain feelings in our brains. The pitch of a sound, for instance, can evoke different emotions depending upon the moment it is heard. People who cannot readily put a name to a sound can sometimes make out what they are hearing if they listen very carefully. This is how the sense of time works.
The most common sense example of how sounds affect the human sense of time is the example of a bird singing. People sitting nearby, looking at the bird, will hear the sound of its song long before it actually reaches their ears. Their mind will process the words as being near in time to when they actually heard it. This is probably an oversimplification, but it illustrates the way that even seemingly unrelated sounds can register with our minds.
In more complex examples of how sounds affect the human sense of time and space, an orchestra playing a symphony can make the listeners feel like they are watching a moving picture. The music evokes a sense of emotion in people, both positive and negative. Certain notes resonate at certain frequencies, and this is how the auditory memory works. It may be that a particular note makes people feel happy or sad. To test this idea, participants were asked to listen to two different samples of a musical piece. One had a sad tone and the other was happy.
The results showed that the participants who heard the sad sounds were much happier than those who heard the happy melody. The conclusion is not altogether clear-cut, however. Other studies have attempted to show that the relationship between happiness and time does exist. Participants were then given a questionnaire asking them to indicate their level of happiness at different times ranging from one minute to one hour. They were asked to indicate their level of sadness as well. It seems, however, that the relationship between sadness and time is simply an illusion caused by the participant’s interpretation of what he/she hears.