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Is there any scientific proof to the feeling that time slows down when we are in danger or crisis? Do we think faster? See faster?

  • I believe that we are tuned to pay more attention when in danger - a lot of things that take up "processing power" of our brains is switched off, and all of a sudden we are a lot more aware of what is going on. You have a car heading towards you, all of a sudden, who cares that your bank wants your balls? :) This is just my believe, through my own experience - I can't find any other way to explain it. – Mister IT Guru May 1 '11 at 12:28
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    You cannot disprove subjective feelings. You might measure the production of some hormones , pulse or blood pressure, but the subjective impression which is correlated to these measures need still to be reported by the individuals. – user unknown May 1 '11 at 15:41
  • Reaction time is known to drop with stress, along with appropriateness of the response. I've never seen anything suggesting that you think faster. Anecdotally, I've been more aware of the lapse between thought and action sometimes when something bad is happening, such as when my little finger is hitting "enter" after the wrong command. – David Thornley May 1 '11 at 16:40
  • I recall reading somewhere that adrenalin is produced during time of danger, which among other things quickens the nervous system. Don't know how true it is, though. – apoorv020 May 1 '11 at 17:12
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    Good timing: There is a very recent, very lengthy New Yorker article about David Eagleman, [a scientist studying this][1]. [1]:newyorker.com/reporting/2011/04/25/… – John Broughton May 1 '11 at 21:22
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An experiment was performed that showed that people don't think faster, but do have a perception that time runs slower.

The experiment was reported in Not Exactly Rocket Science, a blog associated with Discover Magazine.

Chess Stetson, Matthew Fiesta and David Eagleman demonstrated the illusion by putting a group of volunteers through 150 terrifying feet of free-fall. They wanted to see if the fearful plummet allowed them to successfully complete a task that was only possible if time actually moved more slowly to their eyes.

They were given a device that flashed numbers (just) too fast to be read, to see if it could be read while falling. The answer was no. However, they perceived time as slower.

Unlike the slowed bullet-time of The Matrix, a person’s perception of events in time doesn’t speed up when danger looms. However, the volunteers did have a distorted view of time during their fall. Before they ascended the tower, Stetson asked each volunteer to reproduce how long a compatriot took to hit the net using a stopwatch. They were then asked to do the same after they’d had a go themselves. On average, the volunteers estimated that own experience took 36% longer than that of their fellows. Time didn’t slow down – the volunteers just remembered that it did.

Here is the reference to the original paper, (which I have not read myself):

Stetson, C., Fiesta, M.P., Eagleman, D.M., Burr, D. (2007). Does Time Really Slow Down during a Frightening Event?. PLoS ONE, 2(12), e1295. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001295
  • Interestingly, the referenced article refutes Eagleman's earlier findings: "To his surprise, his jumpers (all two of them; the experiment is ongoing and the results preliminary) were able to read the flashing numbers on the way down-evidence that a brain under duress can warp time" neuro.bcm.edu/eagleman/Media/… (of course, it notes there were only two volunteers, and no control group) – Brian M. Hunt Aug 29 '11 at 15:32
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There are change in time perception is called Tachypsychia. Causes include the stress-related Catecholamine hormones, especially Epinephrine (adrenaline). This is a stimulant, increasing heart rate and blood pressure, and so increasing alertness as well as strength and pain thresholds

It has negative effects: for example in pages 16-19 of a UK Government training manual:

  • Loss of fine motor skills (clumsiness)
  • Tunnel vision
  • Time distortion (including memory loss)
  • Auditory exclusion

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