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Everyone has felt, at one point or another, that time does indeed “fly” when we’re having fun. Why does it feel different depending on what we do with it? New research examines the neurological mechanisms that form the subjective experience of time.

illustration of two heads and clocks

The flow of experience is processed by our brains, creating a subjective sense of time.

Space and time are closely related — not just in physics, but also in the brain.

This intimate connection becomes clearer when we take a look at how our brains form episodic memories.

Episodic memories are autobiographical memories — that is, memories about specific events that happened to someone at a specific point in time (and space).

The memory of that first kiss, or of the glass of wine you shared with your friend last week, are both examples of episodic memories. By contrast, semantic memories refer to general information and facts that our brains are capable of storing.

Episodic memories have a pronounced “where” and “when” component, and neuroscientific research shows that the brain area that processes spatial information is close to the one responsible for the experience of time.

Specifically, a new study reveals the network of brain cells that encode the subjective experience of time, and these neurons are located in a brain area adjacent to the one in which other neurons encode space.

The new study was conducted by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim, Norway. Albert Tsao is the lead author of the paper, which is now published in the journal Nature.

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