Subconscious Measurements: Musical manipulations of our sense of time

  Taking initial inspiration from Richard Feynman's It's As Easy As One, Two, Three..,in which he disproves his initial hypothesis that our perception of time would quicken as our heart rates increase, I decided to explore the area of music cognition.

  And after reading How Music Hijacks Our Perception of Time, a really fascinating piece by Jonathan Berger from Stanford's CCRMA (apparently we spend 38% longer in grocery stores when they play slow music), I decided to begin an investigation into how music can play with and distort elements of our subconscious.  Berger writes: I created a simple experiment with a stop watch to measure my girlfriend and I's perception of time (in this experiment I used 30 second counts), and tried to see if I could alter my perception of time after listening to slow, peaceful songs vs much faster, dramatic material.

  I chose a very low tempo ambient piece by Stars of the Lid, and an adagio sonata by Beethoven in an attempt to slow the perception of time. For the opposite, I chose DJ Rashad and Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. This final and famous inclusion was mandatory after Berger sited this delicious statistic:

"In 2004, the Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring deemed Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyrie the most dangerous music to listen to while driving. It is not so much the distraction, but the substitution of the frenzied tempo of the music that challenges drivers’ normal sense of speed—and the objective cue of the speedometer—and causes them to speed."

The results:

My sense of how long 30 secs was intially: 35/36.5/38/36

After Stars of the Lid: 33/36.5/36.5

After Valkyries: 29/29

After Beethoven: 37/35

My girlfriend's initial perception of 30 secs: 27/23.5/25/23

After Stars of the Lid: 24/20/21.5

After Valkyries: 24/20/20.5

After Beethoven: 19.5/18.5

After Dj Rashad: 18/17.5

  In conclusion, it seems that the experiment may have some flaws which might make the findings problematic.  The test subject may become too aware of the hypothesis and self-conscious during the course of the exercise , and it occurred to me that there may also be a fundamental difference between our perception of time (zoomed out) vs our ability to count seconds (zoomed in).  But it was interesting nonetheless and seems to show that music may indeed have the ability to molest our sense of time passing.