Slow motion perception

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Slow motion perception is a subjective perception of time in which things are perceived as passing by slower than the normal perception of time. To a bystander watching a life-threatening situation such as an accident, time is moving at a normal speed. However, to the individual in the accident, time seems to have slowed down. As a result, the individual in the accident may be able to think faster and act faster during these events. However, even though individuals commonly report that time seems to have moved in slow motion during these events, it is unknown whether this is a function of increased time resolution during the event, or, instead, an illusion of remembering an emotionally salient event. Research conducted by David Eagleman has suggested that time does not actually run in slow motion for a person during a life-threatening event, but, rather, it is only a retrospective assessment that brings that person to such a conclusion. To bring this into the realm of scientific study, he measured time perception during free-fall by strapping palm-top computers to subjects' wrists and having them perform psychophysical experiments as they fall. By measuring their speed of information intake, they concluded that participants do not obtain increased temporal resolution during the fall, but, instead, because their memories are more densely packed during a frightening situation, the event seems to have taken longer only in retrospect.[1]

History and introduction[edit]

There is no reference of slow motion perception in books prior to the industrial revolution. After the industrial revolution, when vehicles for faster transportation were made available, people who underwent car or motorbike accidents reported that they perceived time slowing down or stretching just before and during the accidents. For a person standing on the road watching the accident, the duration of the accident may have been a fraction of a second but for the person undergoing the accident, the duration of the accident can stretch to several seconds.

There is a traditional model that tries to explain the mechanism of time perception: when there is an accident or unexpected events, the brain concentrates more on information processing, and the rate at which it processes information increases. Since the rate goes up, the brain perceives longer time due to concentrated information in the interval.

However, Terao et al. suggested that the amount of energy expended by neurons decides the duration. According to Terao et al., the duration of accident gets longer because neurons exert a lot of energy in a short interval.[2]


According to Steve Taylor, senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University and author of Making Time book, clock time may be about minutes and hours but real time is down to how we experience it and it differs from person to person. For instance, during high-stress situations, such as an accident, the brain receives massive amounts of data to process which alters the brain's perception of time. This is believed to be an evolutionary mechanism adapted by the brain to increase human survival rates. Therefore, during an accident a person can react quickly and make a decision in a short period of time.[3]

A recent research model proposes that the perception of space and time undergoes strong distortions during rapid saccadic eye movements.[4] The expectation of perceived motion is necessary for anticipatory slow eye movements.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stetson C, Fiesta MP, Eagleman DM (2007). "Does time really slow down during a frightening event?". PLoS ONE 2 (12): e1295. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001295. PMC 2110887. PMID 18074019. 
  2. ^ David M Eagleman (2008) Current Opinion in Neurobiology 18 (2), pg. 131-136
  3. ^ Geoghagen, Tom. "Turn back the clock". BBC News Magazine. 
  4. ^ Cicchini G, Binda P and Morrone M (2009). A model for the distortions of space and time perception during saccadic movement. Front. Syst. Neurosci. Conference Abstract: Computational and systems neuroscience 2009. doi:10.3389/conf.neuro.06.2009.03.349
  5. ^ Boman, D.K., "Motion perception prominence alters anticipatory slow eye movements" "Experimental Brain Research", 1989

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