Feel like days are dragging or flying? Coronavirus lockdown can distort time, study finds

Marie Claire Dorking
·3-min read

Anyone else have trouble telling what day of the week it is during coronavirus lockdown?

For some, perhaps those who love being able to WFH or who are relishing the chance to spend more time with their children, the days seem to have flown by.

But for others, those desperate to travel or hug their loved ones, time seems to have slowed to a crawl.

Coronavirus lockdown seems to have warped our perception how quickly time is passing – and scientists have just proven that this is totally a thing.

Research, published in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that social and physical distancing measures put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly impacted people’s perception of how quickly time has passed compared to pre-lockdown.

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How we perceive time passing has been altered by coronavirus lockdown. (Getty Images)
How we perceive time passing has been altered by coronavirus lockdown. (Getty Images)

The study by Ruth S. Ogden of Liverpool John Moores University, analysed the responses of 604 participants, who had been asked to rate how quickly they felt time was passing compared to normal, over both the course of a single day and over a full week.

Study participants were also asked to record their emotional state, task load and satisfaction with levels of social interaction between 7 April and 30 April this year.

The results revealed that more than 80% of participants experienced changes to how quickly they perceived time passing during lockdown compared to pre-lockdown.

Interestingly, older participants and those less satisfied with their current levels of social interaction were more likely to experience slower passage of time over the course of a day or week.

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Perceiving time to move more slowly over the course of a day was also linked to those with higher stress and lower task load.

Experiencing time as passing quickly during the lockdown was associated with younger participants and those with increased satisfaction with current levels of social interaction.

“80% of people experienced distortion to the passage of time during the lockdown,” Ogden told ScienceDaily.

“Lockdown passing more slowly than normal was associated with older age and reduced satisfaction with social interactions.”

For some time has dragged during lockdown. (Getty Images)
For some time has dragged during lockdown. (Getty Images)

So what’s causing this weird time warp?

Study authors believe the findings indicate that big changes to our usual routine, thanks to a global pandemic, can distort our perception of time.

Previous research suggests that our perception of how quickly time is passing can change depending on our emotions, our busyness on a day-to-day basis, and other factors.

But researchers now hope that future analysis could delve deeper into the effects of specific factors, including whether social satisfaction influences perception of time during normal daily life, or if its significance in this study could be attributed to the unique social impacts of lockdown.

While the new research does seem to indicate that our time perception has changed during lockdown, Ogden notes there are some limitations to the study, stating that additional variables, not covered by her research, may also have influenced participants experience of the passage of time.

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One of those variables could be alcohol consumption.

“Alcohol consumption is believed to be increasing during the current social and physical distancing measures,” Ogden notes.

“This raises the possibility that atypical alcohol consumption rates during lockdown may contribute to the experience of the passage of time during this period.

“Future research should therefore explore the effect of drug and alcohol use on the passage of time during lockdown.”