The experience of lived time in depression

Temporal experience is influenced by subjectiveness and correlates to physical time. The alteration of the experience of time has been reported as a common feature of psychopathological conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. 

Investigators have already performed some research, albeit mostly from a quantitative approach.  For example, in a study published in Frontiers in human Neuroscience, researchers Vogel et al. (2018) investigated disturbances in time experiences in individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD). 

Literature has shown that the most common result was a decrease in the velocity of the temporal experience in MDD. Unlike previous investigations, though, researchers in the present qualitative study based on phenomenological psychopathology found a contradictory result. Some participants diagnosed with major depressive disorder reported experiencing an increased in time velocity.

The experience of lived time in depression

Explaining the discrepancies

The authors provide three possible explanations for these results. The first of these reasons included the time paradox (Wittmann, 2016, also see Straus, 1928). In this phenomenon, events that involve no particular excitement or interest are judged as shorter when watched retrospectively.

The second reason is that the group of participants with heterogeneous treatments may have shown a clinical improvement and a reduction in major depressive disorder symptom severity.

The third reason includes so-called internal time and external time (Straus, 1928; Lehmann, 1967; Minkowski, 1971) or intersubjective time (Fuchs, 2013). Some subjects with MDD judge external time or world-time to move faster than internal time. This observation confirms previous results found in literature, with the only difference being that the temporal experience phenomenon is explainable by two different points of view.

Another discrepancy with previous results came to light as it relates to a subjective reduction in the speed of time when a person engages in unpleasant situations. In this study, subjects didn’t report any further reduction. The explanation may reside in the overall unpleasantness of the depressive state with an already consequent deceleration of the passage of time. 

Despite these differencesperhaps due to methodological limitations of the present studyit’s clear that these findings, as well as those from previous literature, relate to major depressive disorder symptoms of disturbances in lived time. Further investigation is needed to define if a syndrome is present as it relates to disturbances in time experience and if such a syndrome can be used to facilitate MDD diagnoses.

In Virtualtimes, we are analyzing and studying the sense and structure of time by generating a flow state with the use of VR gaming. The experience of time can be distorted due to certain psychopathological conditions. Funded by the European Union, this project aims to provide individuals with opportunities to re-experience and normalize a variant and distorted sense of time.

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