Pretty much everyone I think has heard the expression “time flies when you’re having fun”, and this usually tends to be the case. Obviously, having fun cannot alter time itself so thinking about this phenomenon got me curious.
In an article on medicalnewstody.com, psychological scientists Philip Gable and Bryan Pool from the University of Alabama discuss two experimental studies they performed to test their hypothesis of why time seems to run faster in certain “fun” situations. Their hypothesis is that time doesn’t fly when people are having fun but rather when they are participating in actions that are high in approach motivation. A high motivation action is one where it incites feelings of motivation makes people want to accomplish some goal.
The studies had participants view three types of images: neutral images (geometric shapes), positive images but low in approach motivation (eg. flowers), and positive images but high in approach motivation (eg. desserts). The participants were to determine if the image displayed was shown for a short time (400ms) or a long time (1600ms). The results of this study confirmed Gable and Pool’s hypothesis. The participants said that the images of the desserts tended to be shown for shorter times than the other images. This supports the hypothesis that the perception that time runs faster is caused by increased approach motivation.
There is another interesting perspective that I came across while researching this topic. An article on spring.co.uk cites a study that suggests that the “time flies when you’re having fun” phenomenon is essentially your own psychology tricking you. The results of this study claim that when participants believe that time has passed much faster than they expected while engaged in some tasks, they tended to rate those tasks they were doing to be more fun and engaging. This mental placebo effect could be the result of people truly believing that time does actually run faster when they are having fun and vice versa. I think an interesting experimental study to also conduct would be the opposite of this study. Participants would engage in whatever activities they find fun and then after some time, have them gauge how much time has elapsed. Another interesting study to conduct would be to somehow find participants that have not been exposed to the “time flies” saying or anything similar and conduct the approach motivation experiment, the time placebo experiment, and the reverse experiment on them. I think that would provide a more solid answer to the question, “does time really fly when you’re having fun?”