The Science Behind 90 Seconds: Why It May Feel Like Both a Blink and an Eternity

Time is a curious concept that has been studied and discussed by scientists and philosophers alike for centuries. From the perception of time to the physical properties of time, the topic is vast and complicated. One interesting aspect of time that has gained attention in recent years is the duration of 90 seconds. This period of time can feel like both a blink and an eternity, depending on the situation. So, what is the science behind 90 seconds, and why does it have such a profound impact on our perception of time?

The Perception of Time

Time perception is a complex phenomenon that involves the interaction of multiple brain regions and processes. It is the subjective experience of time that occurs differently for each individual. People can have different perceptions of time depending on their age, cognitive abilities, and emotional state. The perception of time also varies based on the context and task at hand. For example, if you are engaged in a pleasant activity, time may seem to fly by, while in a boring situation, it may seem to drag on forever.

The Science Behind 90 Seconds

Studies have shown that the duration of 90 seconds is a critical moment in our perception of time. This period of time is long enough to capture our attention but not too long to cause boredom or distraction. It is an ideal time interval for a wide range of activities, from short commercials to meditation exercises.

However, 90 seconds can also feel like an eternity in certain situations. This is because the brain’s perception of time can be influenced by factors such as emotion, attention, and novelty. If you are in a frightening or stressful situation, 90 seconds may feel like an endless nightmare. Similarly, if you are bored or uninterested, it may seem like an eternity.

The Impact of Emotion

Emotions can have a significant impact on our perception of time. When we are in a positive emotional state, time tends to pass quickly, while negative emotions can cause time to slow down or even stop. This phenomenon is known as the time dilation effect, where the brain’s processing speed decreases, making time seem longer. The amygdala, a brain region responsible for processing emotions, can modulate the perception of time by altering the rate of neural activity.

In a study conducted by neuroscientists at Duke University, participants were shown a series of images that were either positive, negative, or neutral. The researchers found that the duration estimation of the positive images was shorter than the negative images, indicating that positive emotions speed up the perception of time while negative emotions slow it down.

The Role of Attention and Novelty

Attention and novelty are two factors that can influence time perception. Attention refers to the ability to focus on a particular task or object, while novelty refers to the degree of novelty or unfamiliarity of the situation or stimulus.

Research has shown that when we are engaged in an attention-demanding task, time seems to pass much quicker than when we are not. This is because the prefrontal cortex, a brain region responsible for attention and working memory, is activated during tasks that require focused attention. The prefrontal cortex can modulate the perception of time by altering the rate of neural activity in other regions of the brain.

Novelty also plays a significant role in time perception. When we experience something new or unfamiliar, our brain devotes more attention to it, making it seem longer. However, when the novelty wears off, time seems to pass more quickly. This is why time seems to go by faster during a familiar routine than during a new activity.


Q1. Why does time seem to fly by when we are having fun?

A1. When we are engaged in a pleasant activity, our brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Dopamine can modulate the perception of time by increasing the neural activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for attention and working memory. When the prefrontal cortex is activated, the brain processes information faster, making time seem to pass more quickly.

Q2. Why does 90 seconds feel like an eternity in stressful situations?

A2. When we are in a stressful situation, the brain releases cortisol, a hormone associated with the stress response. Cortisol can modulate the perception of time by slowing down the neural activity in the prefrontal cortex, making time seem longer. This is why 90 seconds can feel like an eternity when we are in a frightening or stressful situation.

Q3. How can we manipulate our perception of time?

A3. Our perception of time can be manipulated by altering our emotional state, attention, and novelty. To make time seem to pass more quickly, you can engage in pleasant activities that release dopamine, keep yourself engaged in attention-demanding tasks, and try new or unfamiliar activities to increase novelty.


In conclusion, the science behind our perception of 90 seconds is fascinating and complex. Emotions, attention, and novelty all play significant roles in our perception of time and can influence whether 90 seconds feels like a blink or an eternity. By understanding how our brains process time, we can learn to manipulate our perception of it and make the most of every moment. Whether we are in a state of pleasure or stress, we can find ways to harness the power of time and make it work in our favor.

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