A co-worker and I the other day were discussing how to get hit by a train. (Never mind how we got on the subject. Conversations in hospitals can take strange turns.) I brought up something that a guy I used to know — he worked for Amtrak, and still does, I think — told me: you can’t tell how fast a train is coming at you if you’re standing in front of it. People on a track see a train coming, they think they have lots of time, but they don’t.
Then I read this article, which fleshes out the brain’s perception of time in threatening situations:
Finally, the effect might be due to the intrinsic dynamic properties of the stimulus, such that the brain estimates time based on the number of changes in an event.
Of particular relevance to the third hypothesis is the observation that looming stimuli are associated with a distorted subjective perception of time, such that their duration is perceived to be longer than it actually is. Marc Wittmann and his colleagues exploited this in their new study. They recruited 20 participants…
For more information on how to work with someone’s perception of time, go read Does time dilate during a threatening situation?
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