Like most people I believe that “time flies when you’re having fun” and now new research has proven us right… with a slight twist: time flies when you’re having goal-motivated fun. But what is goal-motivated fun?
When people are experiencing positive emotions they feel like time is passing faster than when they experience negative feelings. However, not all positive feelings are considered equal.
Desire and excitement are considered very high in approach motivation because they make people want to accomplish something.
One experiment trained participants to tell the difference between pictures shown for a ‘short’ or a ‘long’ period of time. Neutral pictures of flowers were positive but low in approach motivation but pictures of desserts were high in approach motivation. These pictiures were shown to participants. They had to determine if each picture was displayed for a short or long period of time.
As expected, the participants perceived the pleasing pictures of flower as having been displayed for a longer amount of time than the enticing pictures of desserts.
Results also showed that the perceived amount of time for the enticing pictures was related to the time it had been when the participants last ate. If participants ate recently, which lowered their approach motivation for food, they judged the dessert pictures as having been displayed for a longer period of time than those who were hungrier.
States high in approach motivation makes time seem like it is passing fast because it narrows our memory and attention processes, which shuts out thoughts and feelings that are not related.
So although we tend to believe that time flies when we’re having a good time, what it is about the enjoyable time that causes it to go by more quickly. It seems to be the goal of the action we’re engaged in that matters. Just being content or satisfied may not make time fly, but being excited or actively pursuing a desired object can.
I don't know about you but I am just feeling very hungry for a nice crème brulee or ice cream right now…. Or maybe both!