We attempt to estimate “time” on a routine basis. How long will it take to get to work in today’s traffic? How long will I need to complete this project? How much time should I give to reading this article? But just because we regularly estimate time doesn’t mean we are very accurate at our predictions. Certainly there are factors like stress and fatigue that make us better or worse at making predictions about time, but it is also possible that our relationships with others influence us as well. For example, you may have heard the expression “getting lost in someone’s eyes,” but can that mean losing track of time too?
How They Did It
To answer this question, researchers had female participants view a series of images on a computer, including neutral patterns (e.g., black and white patterns), as well as pictures of 10 males and 10 females.1 Half of the men and women depicted in the pictures were attractive, while the other half was unattractive. Attractiveness was based on having a different group of female participants judge each picture. Participants viewed a series of five images and had to estimate how long the fifth image had been on the screen. The fifth image appeared for seven different durations that ranged from just over a tenth of a second up to 2.1 seconds.
What They Found
When estimating how long female pictures remained on screen, the female participants judged attractive and unattractive photos the same but believed that both appeared longer than the neutral stimuli. However, participants gave significantly longer estimates for the attractive male photos (over 80 milliseconds) compared to the unattractive male photos and the neutral stimuli (estimates between those which did not differ). Thus, it seems that pictures of attractive men made female participants worse at estimating time.
What the Results Mean For You
It appears that women in the study lost track of time, but only when looking at attractive pictures of males. One potential explanation for this finding is that pictures of attractive men create a sense of arousal, making time feel like it passes more quickly, which makes the attractive pictures feel like they appeared longer (sort of a “time flies when you’re having fun” effect). It is also possible that the attractive male pictures led to a more emotional response (i.e., the attractive male pictures could have made participants feel happier), which altered duration estimates. Regardless of the mechanism, the results demonstrate that when women look at an attractive guy, time can stand still…at least for a few milliseconds.
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1Arantes, J., Berg, M. E., & Wearden, J. H. (2013). Females’ duration estimates of briefly-viewed male, but not female, photographs depend on attractiveness. Evolutionary Psychology, 11(1), 104-119.
Dr. Gary Lewandowski – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lewandowski’s research explores the self’s role in romantic relationships focusing on attraction, relationship initiation, love, infidelity, relationship maintenance, and break-up. Recognized as one of the Princeton Review’s Top 300 Professors, he has also authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences.