Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Smoking (and Quitting) affects the Perception of Time

I wrote before about the effects of circadian time and/or body temperature on time perception. But, did you know that being a smoker and being placed in a situation in which lighting up is prohibited can also warp the sense of the passage of time? Here are a couple of papers on that topic:

First, an older, 2003, study, as reported here:

Time Perception Impaired When Smokers Stop:
In a recent study, 20 daily smokers, who went without a cigarette for 24 hours, overestimated the duration of a 45 second interval. To the abstaining smokers, the interval felt approximately 50 percent longer than 45 seconds or more than one minute.
In the study, 22 nonsmokers (12 male and 10 female), and 20 daily smokers (12 male and 8 female), ages 18 to 41, were asked to estimate the duration of a 45 second period of time in a laboratory setting. The smokers were asked to participate in two sessions, once while smoking as usual and once after having stopped for 24 hours.

During each session, the participants were given these instructions: "In a moment, I'm going to say 'start' and then I will say 'stop.' When I say 'stop,' please tell me how much time you think has gone by in seconds. Please try not to count, but just tell me how much time you feel has gone by. Do you have any questions? Ready? Start. [45 second elapse] Stop."

The time estimates made by the nonsmokers and the smokers before the abstinence period were similar and fairly accurate. However, after 24 hours without a cigarette, the smoker's accuracy declined significantly compared to both the nonsmokers and their own estimates before the abstinence period. There were no gender differences in any of the outcomes.

The researchers conclude, "That 24-hour cigarette smoking abstinence can alter perceptions of time in a healthy, young, non-clinical population of smokers emphasizes the need for future research to delineate the attention --altering effects of nicotine and nicotine withdrawal on addiction processes."
More recently, a 2005 paper on the same subject:

Sayette MA, Loewenstein G, Kirchner TR, Travis T., Effects of smoking urge on temporal cognition, Psychol Addict Behav. 2005 Mar;19(1):88-93.
The authors examined temporal aspects of smoking urge. In Experiment 1, smokers assigned to high- or low-urge conditions were informed they would be allowed to smoke in 2.5 min. They next completed measures of time perception. High-urge smokers reported 45 s to pass significantly more slowly than did low-urge smokers. In Experiment 2, the high-urge smokers from Experiment 1 anticipated that their urges would climb steadily over the next 45 min if they were not permitted to smoke. Another group of high-urge smokers actually reported their urges over 45 min. These urge ratings did not show the steady rise anticipated by the first group. Results suggest that smoking urge may affect time perception and that craving smokers overpredict the duration and intensity of their own future smoking urges if they abstain.
The latter paper is also analyzed and explained by Chris of Mixing Memory - you should go and read it here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


That explains everything. I am forewarned when I actually quit. I wonder if the patch helps make the perception of time lessen a bit?

Why is there a wheelchair beside the word verification line??

10:44 PM  
Blogger coturnix said...

The wheelchair is for visually impaired and dilexic people: it gives the kaptcha in audio.

11:43 PM  
Anonymous varkam said...

Makes sense to me. The last time I tried to quit smoking, just an hour felt like an eternity at times. It was a lot easier if there was something I could do to take my mind off smoking and a lot harder when all I was doing was sitting there.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Kim said...

Time is also impaired when you are in an ER waiting room. The average patient will add two hours to their actual waiting time.

I just wish I had research to back it up.... : )

1:57 AM  
Anonymous Iole said...

Then it's not just me..I wish it could lessen after 3 days like someone said in Chris' post ;-)

In french we have this sentence : long comme un jour sans pain / long like a day without bread. Old saying, of sourse, but I think hunger does that too, if you are aware of it. If not, if someone does something that keeps his mind going, he can forget to eat.

7:52 PM  

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