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?
An experiment was performed that showed that people don't think faster, but do have a perception that time runs slower.
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
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