Why Time Slows Down in Near-Death Experiences

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Using an unorthodox experiment, a researcher thinks he has discovered why time seems to drag in moments where the body thinks it is experiencing extreme danger.

NPR reports on the research of neuroscientist David Eagleman, a Baylor College of Medicine professor who has been studying the phenomenon for the past several years. His methodology? An extreme sport called SCAD (suspended catch air device) diving, which drops volunteers (sans cord) some 150 feet into a waiting net below. “We asked everyone how scary it was, on a scale from 1 to 10, and everyone said 10,” Eagleman told NPR.

But their fear provoked a neurological response as well – nearly all subjects reported feeling like time dragged. Eagleman made it easy to gauge their response by strapping a chronometer to each volunteer’s wrist and asking them to observe it as they fell. While the numbers would move too fast to be noticed in “normal” time, subjects reported that the time “moved slower” as they fell.

Eagleman’s theory? The brain records more sensory information in traumatic experiences. Time isn’t slowing down, but the hyper-memory makes it seem like it is by processing and storing all this additional information. Or, as NPR puts it, “you’re getting a peek into all the pictures and smells and thoughts that usually just pass through your brain and float away, forgotten forever.” (via NPR)