Time Flies When You’re Pissed Off
Okay, say you’ve got a meeting scheduled for next Wednesday. Now, say it’s been moved forward two days.
Without looking down the page: What day is your meeting on now?
You’ve got two possible answers, of course: Monday or Friday. According to a new study, which one you choose says quite a bit about your temperament. As BPS Research Digest puts it: “If you think it’s now changed to Friday, then you’re someone who thinks of themselves as moving through time, whilst if you think the meeting is now on Monday, then you’re more passive, and you think about time passing you by.”
Got that? Monday = passive (time is coming at you). Friday = active (you move through time).
In a second study, the same team found that the nature of the event (anger-provoking vs. neutral) could influence your perception of time:
On average, more students presented with the angry version said the event had been moved to Friday (as if they themselves were moving through time) than students presented with the neutral version. Moreover, the angry-version students were more likely (than the neutral students) to say that they felt as though they were approaching the event, rather than that the event was approaching them.
In other words, angry thoughts seem to be able to make us feel more active — more like we’re moving through time as opposed to feeling that time moves toward us.
(A third study flips this effect on its head, showing that priming people to think of themselves moving through time made them have more angry thoughts.)
What does it all mean? Well, it highlights how we perceive of time in a spatial sense, even though it’s not a spatial thing — necessitated mostly, I suppose, by our need to represent time graphically in order to schedule it. And it shows that when we perceive of two things spatially (say time and anger, which is associated with the concept of drawing near), they can interact in surprising yet predictable ways.