What is Time Perception?

Daniel Liden

Time perception is a general term used in psychological fields to describe the way that different individuals perceive the passage of time. It is highly related to such common issues as time management, procrastination, and perspective. Time perception tends to have a significant influence on one's personality. People who extensively plan every aspect of their lives and people who save all tasks for the last minute, for instance, have very different perceptions of time and its passage. An individual's perception of time can change significantly based on the nature of present activity, a shift in philosophy on life, drug use, or other factors.

Time perception refers to the way different people perceive the passage of time.
Time perception refers to the way different people perceive the passage of time.

A broad aspect of time perception known as "perspective" refers to one's overall point of view with relation to time, particularly as time relates to a certain goal. An individual with a present time perspective is one who chooses to "live for the now" based on the beliefs that the present does not affect the future in ways that are of any particular importance. People with such perspectives tend to plan little and are generally more impulsive than individuals with future time perspectives. One with a future time perspective, on the other hand, plans and acts based on the notion that the present has a substantial and important effect on the future. Such individuals tend to think through the long-term implications of their actions and to act more strategically than their present-perspective counterparts.

Individuals suffering with schizophrenia may experience inappropriate emotional responses and difficulty perceiving time.
Individuals suffering with schizophrenia may experience inappropriate emotional responses and difficulty perceiving time.

Another related aspect of time perception referred to as "time urgency" is more important in day-to-day action than in overall perspective. Individuals with low time urgency tend to have little awareness of the passage of time. They pay little or no attention to deadlines and tend to assume that they have more time to complete a given task than they actually have. Individuals with high time urgency, on the other hand, tend to prioritize tasks, pay close attention to deadlines, and check remaining time constantly.

Children with autism may have difficulty with time perception.
Children with autism may have difficulty with time perception.

A variety of different psychological and neurological disorders, including autism and schizophrenia, can significantly affect time perception. Time perception can also be altered by some recreational and therapeutic psychoactive drugs. This suggests that a physiological basis of time perception does exist. Psychological factors can also affect an individual's perception of time in some cases. Pleasurable or exciting activities, for example, seem to take much less time than boring or unpleasant activities that actually take up the same amount of time.

Children typically perceive time in a different way than adults.
Children typically perceive time in a different way than adults.

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Discussion Comments


Focus for a moment on "the last minute." Technically, there are the same number of seconds in the last minute as in any other, but some either believe or perceive they can stuff more in that last one than the rest of us think we can.

Are procrastinators actually well adjusted to their perception of time, only annoying non-procrastinators but in perfect control? Or, do they somehow convince themselves they can stretch that last minute to fit whatever has been postponed to it?


@burcidi-- I think that kind of time perception analysis is really interesting. After reading your post, I understand better how time perception and psychology might be related.

Since you said that your time perception is highly influenced by the past, that must make you think through all your past experiences before making decisions in the present, right?

Someone whose perception is more influenced by the present will probably think of neither the past nor future and will live in the moment, so to speak. And someone whose perception is influenced by the future will do a lot of planning.


There was a really cool article and survey in one of the magazines I read regularly. It was talking about time and how the perception of time has a huge impact on our personality.

They had several categories of time biases- or time segments which are most influential on a person. The time segments are past, present and future. Depending on your scores on the survey which has various questions about time, you can figure out how your time perception is biased.

I did the survey and compared my scores with the norm. I appear to be biased about both my past and present. My perception of the future is the healthiest one out of all. I had a really high score in past negative. This means that my perception of time is highly influenced by my past and especially by the negative experiences in my past.


I have a friend with a strange time perception. It seems to be varied. She somehow manages to get to work on time every morning, but for every other occasion, she is at least an hour late.

I think that she gets this from her mother. They both take a long time to get ready. Whenever we would go to parties together, I would show up at her house at the time she said we should be leaving. It would take her at least another hour to get ready after that.

Is it possible to have selective time perception? I know that she isn't trying to be casually late, but it seems odd to me that she doesn't notice she should have been ready an hour ago. It's also strange that she is always on time for work.


My husband's time perception gets on my nerves at times. He is so laid back, and he never gets in a hurry to do anything. In fact, he often doesn't even remember that he has anywhere to be, and I have to remind him constantly.

I wonder if he has some sort of time perception disorder. Honestly, it doesn't seem natural to carelessly sleep the day away, forgetting that you have to meet a client at a certain time or that you have a doctor's appointment.

I am so the opposite of him when it comes to time perception. It really worries me how he can be so unaware of the passage of time. I worry about what will happen to him if I'm ever in a coma or otherwise unable to help him.


@OeKc05 – I definitely agree. I can remember that it took eons for Christmas to arrive when I was little, but now, it seems to happen more often than once a year. It is hard to believe that twelve months goes by that quickly.

My time perception has changed so much that the way I think now seems almost unhealthy. I try to stay ahead of time at work and at home, and when I'm unable to do that, I feel panicked.

I have a terrible sense that the world is spinning faster and the great clock of my life's time is running down. I can't imagine time going by any faster than it is now, but my grandmother tells me it gets worse with age.

I need to find a way to perceive time that doesn't involve pressure and panic. My current time perception is stressing me out too much.


I think that a person's age greatly affects their time perception. When I was young, I never got in a hurry to do anything, because it always seemed as if I had plenty of time.

When I was a child, time went even slower. It felt like it took years to get through a semester of school, and the days themselves seemed so long.

Now that I'm in my thirties, time goes by too quickly. A week's worth of time feels like a day from my childhood, and there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done.


@ysmina-- Yea, I think so.

I have problems with procrastination because I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My doctor said that ADHD can cause time perception disorder and that's why people with ADHD tend to procrastinate, be late for everything and have difficulty paying attention.

My mom calls me "time blind" because I never know what time it is, or how close I am to a deadline. It's impossible to get me to pick up my little brother from kindergarten because I can never keep track of time. It feels like time is going more slowly for me than everyone else, which makes it really hard to be in tune with everyone else's schedules.


Does this mean that my time perception is the reason for my procrastination?

I wouldn't say that I'm absolutely horrible with time management, but I do tend to leave things to last minute. If there is plenty of time left for me to do something, I don't see a reason to do it. Even if I try, I have difficulty paying attention and end up wasting a lot of time.

If I have a short period of time left before a deadline though, that urgency makes me work very efficiently and I actually think that I do a better job this way. For example, I don't every schedule study time before an test at school. I just study like crazy 1-2 days before the test day and that's it.

So what does this say about my time perception then? Do I have a present time perspective?

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