Our perception of time is inconsistent—and a lot of different factors can affect whether time feels like it’s flying by versus standing still. For example, watching water boil on a stove or waiting in an airport security line can feel like it takes an eternity because we’re bored and more aware of the passing of time. By contrast, when you’re out having a few drinks with friends, you can feel like an entire night flew by in a breeze because you weren’t actively thinking about the clock.
Another factor that can impact the perception of time is being around someone you find to be really physically attractive—and a new study explored how this all plays out in real time.
A group of researchers ran a speed-dating event for 37 young, heterosexual, single adults. Participants went to a bar near the university where the research was being conducted and went on a series of short dates with partners of the other sex. Participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of all of their partners (both before and after the event) and provided estimates for the length of time each date lasted at the end of the study.
Note that the researchers randomly varied the length of the dates and did not allow participants to have any devices that could tell time so that they wouldn’t have an objective way of telling how much time had actually passed.
It turned out that when women were on dates with partners they found to be physically attractive, their perception of time changed such that they estimated the dates as lasting longer. The aligns with the saying that “time slows down whenever you’re around.”
When men were on dates with partners they found to be physically attractive, their perception of time also changed; however, they estimated their dates as being shorter. This aligns with the saying that “time flies when you’re having fun.”
Conversely, the less attractive women perceived their dates, the shorter they estimated them to be, whereas for men who were less attracted to their dates, the longer they estimated them to be.
How do we explain this pattern of results? The researchers theorize that it’s because women are using more cognitive resources when they’re on a date with an attractive partner—they’re processing more information and devoting more attention to evaluating the suitability of their partner in other ways beyond sex appeal. So, there’s a lot happening in a short amount of time, which can make it feel like it took longer than it did. They couch their interpretation in an evolutionary lens and argue that because reproduction is a much more costly activity for women than it is for men, women tend to be more selective and think more carefully about who they’re going to get involved with.
By contrast, the researchers argue that men are putting in a bit less cognitive effort with attractive partners—they already know they’re into the other person, so they’re thinking less and focused more on having fun, which can contribute to the sense that time if flying by.
Of course, this research has its limitations, not the least of which is that it involved a small sample of young adults. Further, this study did not assess how attractiveness impacts time perception among sexual and gender minorities. Thus, more research is warranted before drawing firm conclusions and generalizing to other groups; however, these findings suggest that time seems to pass differently for men and women when they’re on a hot date.
What do you think of all of this? And do you find that time flies or stands still when you’re with an attractive partner? Weigh in with your comments below.
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To learn more about this research, see: Arantes J, Pinho M, Wearden J, & Albuquerque PB (2021) “Time Slows Down Whenever You Are Around” for Women but Not for Men. Frontiers in Psychology.
Image Source: Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash
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