Time Seems to Pass More Slowly for Depressed People

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One of the common side effects of depression is the feeling that time is passing more slowly than it should. And that makes sense: Depression often causes people to lose interest in the activities or the people they once loved, and the minutes in a given day must start to seem excessive when you’re suddenly unsure how or why to spend them. But, interestingly, even though depressed people report feeling like time is passing more slowly than non-depressed people, both groups are about equally accurate at objectively judging how much time has passed, according to a new review of studies on depression and time perception in the Journal of Affective Disorders. 

Researchers at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universitat Mainz in Germany read through 16 studies, canvassing a total of 433 non-depressed people and 485 depressed people. Much of the research involved experiments assessing how accurately the study participants were able to gauge time’s passing — one asked people to estimate the length of a short film, and another asked people to press and hold a button until they thought five seconds had passed. In their analysis of this line of experimentation, the researchers found no significant differences in the accuracy of depressed and non-depressed people on the various tasks. 

But other studies included in this new meta-analysis asked participants about their subjective sense of time — did they feel as if time were moving slowly or quickly? Here, they saw that depressed people were more likely to say time was dragging than the non-depressed people. It’s a strange thing to wrap your mind around. A depressed person is perfectly accurate at objectively judging the passage of two minutes, and yet, to a depressed person, those two minutes feel longer. It’s a pretty fascinating glimpse into the way your mental state can alter your perception of things that seem like they should be static.