New research provides scientific evidence that trying to conceal something can alter your perception of time. The new study appears in the journal Biological Psychology.
“You may have had an experience where you got nervous and wanted to escape from the situation when you attempted to deceive the other players in a card game, for example. In such a case, you might have felt that time passed slowly,” said study authors Izumi Matsuda and Hiroshi Nittono, an associate professor at Aoyama Gakuin University and a professor at Osaka University, respectively.
“Past research has shown that time flies when people have fun. To our knowledge, however, no research has examined how time is perceived during lying. That’s why we studied this topic.”
In the study, 36 graduate and undergraduate students were instructed to to steal an item from the laboratory and conceal it until the end of the experiment. To encourage the participants, they were given a cash voucher of 500 Japanese yen and told that they could keep it if they successfully concealed their item.
Each participant was then seated in front of a computer. Pictures of various items repeatedly appeared on the screen along with the question, “Did you steal this?” After each picture, the participants estimated how long the image had appeared on the screen.
The task included two different conditions. In the “guilty” condition, the concealed item was included among the set of pictures. In the “innocent” condition, the concealed item was absent from the set of pictures.
During this task, the researchers continuously recorded the participants’ physiological arousal using skin conductance sensors. The entire procedure was based on a polygraph technique known as the concealed information test, which is designed to detect a person’s knowledge about a crime.
In line with previous research, the researchers observed stronger physiological arousal when a concealed item was presented on the screen. They also found that the display of all items in the guilty condition was perceived as longer than that in the innocent condition. Response times were also longer in the guilty condition than in the innocent condition.
“When you are concealing something, you will feel that time passes more slowly than usual, because you are in an aroused and highly vigilant state. Not only the very thing to be concealed but also other items are perceived as lasting longer than usual during this state,” Matsuda and Nittono told PsyPost.
It is unclear how well the results generalize outside of a laboratory setting. But the effect could actually be stronger in real-world settings.
“Participants in the lab are completely safe and protected, even if they fail to deceive the experimenter. This is obviously not the case outside the lab, where lots of things are at stake,” Matsuda and Nittono explained.
“The problem is that, in such a case, not only liars but also innocents may get aroused because of the stress of being examined, and both of them feel time passing slowly. Therefore, we don’t think the change in time perception can be used as a discriminative measure of telling a lie or not.”
“The first author, Izumi Matsuda, was formerly a senior researcher at the National Research Institute of Police Science, Japan, and has studied the theoretical and practical aspects of the polygraph test. In Japan, polygraph tests are used only in forensic settings (i.e., admissible in court as evidence) and are only used to test a suspect’s knowledge about the case, not to test whether they lie or not,” the researchers explained.
“Following this tradition, we don’t think this study is to develop a new method of deception detection. Nevertheless, we think it is meaningful that our common belief that the act of deception distorts time perception is tested empirically for the first time.”
The study, “Time Passes Slowly When You Are Concealing Something” was authored by Izumi Matsuda, Ayano Matsumoto, and Hiroshi Nittono.