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Do different species perceive time to pass at different rates?

  1. May 2, 2012 #1
    Assuming the perception of time has something to do with the rate at which signals can move around within the brain and between the brain and body it would make sense that smaller animals with smaller brains would perceive more time between events because the distances which neurological signals must travel are smaller. For example, a human may watch a movie and see continuous motion but a mouse looking at the same screen may see a series of still images?

    Has this idea been tested by experiment? If so, how, and what was the result?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 2, 2012 #2


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    It's good cause/effect thinking, but there's one aspect of the brain to consider:

    electrotonic length does not equal physical length. That is, the brain can make signals travel faster or slower down particular neural structures. It can use this feature to synchronize signals.
  4. May 2, 2012 #3
    that means that they could perceive time at the same rate
    but the shorter distance would be able to perceive time faster and wouldn't there be an evolutionary advantage to "slow down time" to avoid getting eaten.
  5. May 4, 2012 #4
    Neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás maintains the cells in the thalamus all pulse in synchrony at 40 hz.


    If we suppose our sense of the passage of time were linked to this frequency, then a greater frequency would make the world seem to slow down, and a slower frequency would make the world speed up. In the former case there would be more "samples" of reality per second, and in the latter, fewer.

    This may not be the mechanism by which our perception of the passage of time is regulated, but there does seem to be some such mechanism because it can be disrupted by drugs, like speed, and disease, like Parkinson's.

    I'm told that the drug "speed" got it's name because users would perceive the world around them to have speeded up. They'd see people rushing around like a movie shown at the wrong rate. Likewise, Oliver Sacks discovered that some of his post-encephaletic Parkinson's patients (Awakenings) would slow down to a rate so slow that they looked frozen. The act of scratching an itch on their face would take them all day in this state. When they came out of it it would seem to them just a moment had passed, and the people who had moved around them would have moved so fast they couldn't even perceive them.

    Since there is some mechanism governing this, it would make sense that animals that have to move extremely quickly, like birds, would be "sampling" the environment at a greater frequency per second than humans and larger mammals. To them, we may seem to be moving with ponderous slowness.
  6. May 7, 2012 #5
    Is there anything that has the opposite effect, making the rest of the world seem to slow down by increasing the rate at which we "sample reality"? Or is the brain naturally optimized to sample at the highest possible rate?
    Last edited: May 7, 2012
  7. May 9, 2012 #6
    Actually do all humans perceive time to pass at same rate? Is it similar to asking "Do we see the same colour as each other? (http://en.allexperts.com/q/Popular-Science-357/colour-other-1.htm)". [Broken]

    Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so. - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. May 9, 2012 #7


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    These are some papers I used in a research project for a "Learning and Cognition" psychology class. They don't directly answer the question, but they provide an interesting insight into human perception of time.

    Volume 106, Issue 2, February 2008, Pages 579-593
    Time in the mind: Using space to think about time
    Casasanto, D. , Boroditsky, L.
    Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Jordan Hall, Bldg. 420, Stanford, CA 94305, United States

    Cognition. 2000 Apr 14;75(1):1-28.
    Metaphoric structuring: understanding time through spatial metaphors.
    Boroditsky L.

    So I think... in short... the time scales we use to conceptualize time or the ones we're most familiar with from spatiotemporal experiences. That is, frequency of stimuli that is cognitively significant drives our perception of time in the way that it requires our attentiveness.

    So "too long" is when stimuli aren't coming as fast as we have built up an expectation for them to and "too short" is when stimuli are coming much faster than our learned expectations.
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