By Rosa Raponi Newton
Have you ever noticed that your sense of time appears to change when you practice meditation? At times, we may feel that the passage of time slows to a crawl during meditation. At other times, it may seem as if time rushes past us more quickly than usual. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the bells go off at the end of a meditation and thought: “is it over already?” Conversely, I’ve likely had even more occasion to think: “when are those bells going to go off already?” This phenomenon: changes in how we perceive time, is something that has been discussed among meditators for ages, and has recently become the subject of scientific study.
Researchers are examining how meditation can alter the perception of time, even after the meditation is over. According to researchers from the universities of Kent and Witten/Herdecke, mindfulness meditation practice can slow down our sense of passing time after a brief period of meditation. They compared groups of students who listened to a 10-minute mindfulness meditation versus a 10-minute audiobook recoding of The Hobbit, who engaged in a time-guessing task afterwards. The results showed that meditators overestimated the passage of time. In other words, the meditators were more likely to perceive that time was passing more slowly. The other interesting thing to note from this study is that those who listened to the recorded meditation had never meditated before. So, even after only 10 minutes of meditation experience, our perception of time can be affected! From the words of the researchers: “subjective time is very sensitive to even short meditative states and the changes these induce, even for those who are not meditation experts”. This research highlights just one of the myriad of ways in which mindfulness meditation can impact our mental processes and affect how we perceive the world around us.
Kramer, R. S. S., U. W. Weger, & D. Sharma. 2013. The effect of mindfulness meditation on time perception. Consciousness and Cognition, 22, 846–852.