Personal Health

Social Media May Be Messing With Your Perception of Time

Does your daily Twitter binge feel like minutes or hours?

Photo Credit: Kokulina/Shutterstock

Have you ever spiraled so deep into a Facebook debate or Instagram feed that you suddenly find yourself, an hour later, wondering where the time has gone? It’s an unsettling feeling that can leave social media users existentially questioning how they make use of their leisure time. If it’s happened to you, you’re not alone. A new study shows that people addicted to social media may have a distorted sense of time.

Psychologists have just begun to explore the ways in which our addiction to technology negatively impacts our society and our health, hurts our social skills and weakens our democracy, not to mention its impact on our eyesight and attention spans. But a distorted sense of time, as presented in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, is a new one.

Researchers tested nearly 300 university students, who were given a half hour to complete a survey. During that time, they were prevented from using social media. The individuals who reported spending more time using social media per day said the survey and their short-term separation from Facebook felt longer. Those who use social media less said the survey and social media hiatus felt short. Creepy, no?

As study author Ofir Turel of the University of Southern California and California State University at Fullerton says, distorted time is a common feature of addiction in general. “Distortion of time perception is a hallmark feature of many addictive and problematic behaviors. For example, ‘addicted’ video gamers perceive their sessions to be shorter than they actually are; heavy smokers think that the between-cigarettes time interval is longer than it actually is; and obese people perceive that the between-meals time intervals are longer than they actually are.”

The study could help therapists working with patients who suffer from such addictions.

“The takeaway for therapists is that time distortion tests may be added to the battery of techniques they use for trying to diagnose individuals as needing therapy, and perhaps even as part of the solution.”

The study doesn’t specify how many hours per day on social media could lead to an addiction, but these results could leave you questioning your own online habits.

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Liz Posner is a managing editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on Forbes.com, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos.