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为何感觉2018年如此漫长?心理学家告诉你

Aaron M. Sackett 2018年12月22日

大脑之所以能够间接对时间做出判断,主要是因为依赖注意力和记忆力两种认知过程。

2018年2月13日,韩国平昌冬奥会女子单板滑雪U形场地半决赛上,克洛伊·金知道她首轮比赛成绩时的反应。2018年已到尾声,一位心理学家解释了为什么这一年似乎是有史以来最长的一年——但在当时却觉得时间飞逝。图片来源:Xin Lee—Getty Images

你可能认为像2018年这样充斥着各种大新闻的一年似乎会一闪而过。然而我们很多人都觉得,2018年1月似乎已经是一个世纪以前了。所以2018年到底是飞逝的一年,还是冗长的一年?

答案很奇怪:两者兼而有之。

人类与时间的关系很复杂。不同于物质实体或能量,人体没有哪个器官可以直接感知时间。大脑之所以能够间接对时间做出判断,主要是因为依赖注意力和记忆力两种认知过程。

如果我们想知道当下的时间是怎么推进的,我们的判断主要受到注意力的影响。任何观察过钟表(更耳熟能详的例子是烧水壶)的人都能证实,我们对时间的流逝越关注,时间似乎就过得越慢。但如果我们的生活忙碌起来,如果世界上有很多事等着我们去思考,我们就会无暇关注时间的流逝。

这样一来,感觉似乎每分钟都过得快多了。把时间框架拉长,道理也是一样。如果每一天、每个星期、每个月都有很多事吸引我们的注意力,无论是自己的事(“我要把这些邮件都处理掉!”),还是全世界的事(“我忍不住想看海啸的视频!”),我们就没有那么多机会去监测时间的流逝,因而更容易在事后惊觉大把时间已经过去。没错,开心的时间总是过得飞快,主要是因为你的注意力被转移了。其它能够分散注意力的事情也有同样的效果。

这就让我们回到本文的主要问题:为什么我们很多人却觉得2018年好像尤其漫长?这一年绝不缺少分散我们注意力的事情。2018年股市动荡不安,各种天灾占据新闻头条,新的政治形势感觉已经不再像坐过山车,更像碰碰车,有这么多事情占据我们的脑海,让我们没空去关注时间的流逝。既然2018年牢牢抓住了我们的注意力,这一年为什么却没有转瞬而逝的感觉呢?

答案在于记忆。当我们回头看,思考过去的时间是如何流逝的(也就是“回顾性”时间判断),此时我们对时间的认知并非基于注意力,而在于我们能回忆起多少有意义的事。一段时间里我们能记得的“事情”越多,这段时间感觉就越长。

比如说,想想昨天。昨天是比较长的一天,还是比较短?大多数人经过提示会用前一天发生的两三件重要的事来定义这一天,让人感觉这一天不太长。现在想想其它事,比如你每顿饭吃了什么,饭前饭后做了什么,白天你去了哪些地方,怎么去的。通常情况下,当出现在你记忆里的事情变多时,你会开始觉得这一天似乎变长了。

每年12月我们回头看过去的一年时,也是同样的道理:如果我们只回忆一些重要的事情,可能会觉得这一年过得很快。然而,2018年难忘的事可不是只有几件。这一年不仅被各种重大事件塞得满满当当(韩国平昌冬奥会和英国哈里王子的皇室婚礼真的是在今年吗?),2018年的大部分新闻还具有自我强化的特点。罗伯特·穆勒的特别调查组曝出的每一条新闻、道指每一次暴涨暴跌、英国脱欧长篇故事里的每一个新动向都让人觉得2018年一波三折。

总而言之,之所以感觉2018年如此漫长,因为这一年实在太过难忘。虽然当时会觉得时光飞逝,但当我们停下来想一想,2018年1月似乎已经是很久很久之前了。但再给它点时间,随着我们对2018年的记忆变淡,凝固成范围更小的几件大事时,这种这一年长得不可思议的感觉或许也会随之褪去。

与此同时,为2019年做好准备吧。新一年的态势已初现,将是另外一段漫长又飞快的旅程。(财富中文网)

作者亚伦·M·萨基特是圣托马斯大学欧普斯商学院的市场营销学副教授。

译者:Agatha

You might think that a year as chock full of newsworthy events as 2018 would feel like it blazed by in a flash. Yet for many of us, January feels like it was eons ago. So did 2018 fly by, or did it drag on?

The answer is, strangely, both.

Humans have a complicated relationship with time. Unlike physical matter and energy, we have no organ that directly detects time. Instead, our brains judge time indirectly, mostly through two processes—attention and memory.

When we think about how time is currently progressing, time judgments are based primarily on attention. As anyone who has ever watched a clock (or the proverbial pot of water) can attest, the more attention we give to time’s passage, the slower it seems to go. But when our lives get busy, and when the world gives us lots of things to think about, we are more distracted from time’s passage.

As a result, it feels as though the minutes pass by more quickly. The same can be said for longer durations of time. When days, weeks, and months are packed with distractions—ranging from personal (“I have to clear out these emails!”) to global (“I can’t stop watching the footage of this tsunami!”)—we take fewer opportunities to monitor the passage of time and we’re more likely to later be surprised at how much time has passed. Yes, time flies when you’re having fun, but mainly because your mind is distracted. Other distractions can work just as well.

Which brings us back to the main question: Why did 2018 feel like such an exceptionally long year for many of us? The year certainly had no shortage of distractions. Volatile markets, numerous natural disaster headlines, and a political news landscape that feels more like bumper cars than a rollercoaster ride all help keep our minds busily focused away from the passage of time. Based on how much 2018 captured our attention, why doesn’t it seem like it flew by?

The answer is memory. When we look back and think about how time has progressed (that is, “retrospective” time judgment), our perception of time is based not on attention but on how many meaningful events we can recall. The more “things” we can remember filling a certain span of time, the longer that span feels.

Consider yesterday, for example. Was it a relatively long day, or relatively short? Most people, if prompted, will characterize the previous day by two or three highlight events, making it feel relatively short. But now think about some additional events: what you ate for meals, what you did before and after those meals, where you went during the day, and how you got there. Usually, as your memory fills in with more events, the day begins to feel as if it lasted longer.

The same is true each December when we look back at the past year: If we focus on a few highlight events, the year is likely to feel like it flew by rapidly. However, 2018 was not a year of just a few memorable events. Not only was it jam-packed with important events (were the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and Prince Harry’s royal wedding really just this year?), but much of 2018’s news was self-reinforcing. Each new revelation from the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller, every major jump and fall of the Dow, and each step of the Brexit saga contributed to the sense that 2018 was all twists and turns.

Ultimately, 2018 feels like such a long year because it was just so darn memorable. While the year may have felt like it was flying by in the moment, when we pause to reflect, January 2018 seems an awfully long time ago. But give it a little while, and as our memory of 2018 fades and crystallizes into a smaller set of highlights, the feeling that it was an unusually long year will likely fade as well.

Meanwhile, brace yourself for 2019. It’s shaping up to be another long, fast ride.

Aaron M. Sackett is an associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

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