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The Brain on Time

December 12, 2016

The brain chemical dopamine may regulate our perception of how fast time passes.



The brain on time. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

You can thank the brain chemical dopamine for the saying “time flies when you’re having fun”, according to a study in the journal Science. Dopamine is involved in pleasure and reward, and Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown researchers found that when dopamine neurons were more active in the brains of mice, their perception of time sped up. But neurocientist Joe Paton says suppressing the chemical had the opposite effect.

JOE PATON (Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown, Lisbon, Portugal):

You know, if you’re in a dark alley, and you’re scared, and you feel like it’s taking forever to get through that dark alley, you know, maybe that’s because your dopamine neurons have been suppressed a little bit, and so your internal clock is in overdrive.


Having a skewed sense of time may provide a survival advantage, compelling animals to linger longer over rewarding patches of food, or get out of danger quickly, for example. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard