Holiday Anticipation May Make Time Seem To Fly


Christmas or Ramadan might seem to come around more quickly each year, for people who pay more attention to time, are more forgetful of plans, and love a good holiday. A research team led by Ruth Ogden of Liverpool John Moores University, UK, and Saad Sabet Alatrany of Imam Ja'afar Al-Sadiq University, Iraq, published these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on July 10, 2024. They suggest this could mean that someone's experience of time is shaped not only by what they've done, but what is left to do.

"Christmas seems to come quicker each year," is a staple of small talk. But the feeling that a holiday comes around faster could also mean that someone's sense of time is slightly distorted. To find out how often people sense this phenomenon, and what shapes their perception of time, Ogden and colleagues conducted a survey of more than 1,000 people in the United Kingdom and more than 600 people in Iraq. They asked them if they believed Christmas or Ramadan came more quickly each year, and measured their memory function and attention to time as well as asking about age, gender, and social life.

The authors found 76 percent of people in the United Kingdom felt Christmas came quicker every year, and 70 percent of people in Iraq felt the same about Ramadan. For both cases, people were more likely to report this perceived acceleration if they enjoyed the holiday, and also for UK participants, if they reported better social lives. In both Iraq and the UK, people were more likely to feel holidays came earlier if they thought about the passage of time more often, and if they were prone to prospective memory errors – such as forgetting to do a planned task. Perhaps surprisingly, age did not play a role in the perception.

While Ramadan and Christmas are very different holidays, and perceptions of time could certainly be influenced by marketing and other factors, the scientists suggest that our experience of time might be shaped both by our attention to its passage and by our plans for the future.

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