Science Book a Day Interviews Claudia Hammond


Special thanks to Claudia Hammond for answering 5 questions about her recently featured book – Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception

Claudia is an award-winning broadcaster, writer and psychology lecturer. She is the presenter of All in the Mind & Mind Changerson BBC Radio 4 and Health Check on BBC World Service Radio and BBC World News TV. She is a columnist for and regularly appears on Impact on BBC World News to discuss research in psychology. Claudia is on the part-time faculty at Boston University’s London base where she lectures in health and social psychology. She is the author of two psychology books – “Emotional Rollercoaster: a journey through the science of feelings” and “Time Warped: Unlocking the mysteries of time Perception” published by Canongate.  – From Claudia’s Homepage

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#1- What was the impetus for Time Warped?

I’ve always been fascinated by time, but when I writing my first book Emotional Rollercoaster: a journey through the science of feelings I was struck by the number of studies I came across which seemed to involve time speeding up or slowing down in emotional situations. I was thinking of writing a book about perceptions of the future and then decided to do something bigger and to tackle the past, present and the future all in the one book.

#2 – You talk about how of perception of time can be influenced by our mind. What was the most unusual finding you made?

I gathered the best research in psychology and neuroscience from all around the world and was staggered by the range of studies out that. I was particularly intrigued by the work of the Katya Rubia from the Institute of Psychiatry in London involving children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. She found for them time actually felt as though it went more slowly than for other children. This is something I’ve thought about a lot since writing the book. Mental health professionals have mentioned to me that they’ve seen unusual patterns of time perception in their clients and I wonder whether time is a neglected aspect of various conditions affecting the mind or the brain. No one’s tried it, but it makes me wonder whether trying to change that time perception might help with a condition.

3 – You cover many ingenious experiments that demonstrate the mutability of time. What was your favourite experiment?

I have to admit I quite like some of the early studies. They might not tell us as much as larger, more recent studies, but I like the fact that researchers were so imaginative. There’s a study conducted by a Mr and Mrs Boring in 1917 where they woke people up at random times in the night and had them estimate the time. It was far from boring.

I think my favourite recent study is probably one by the American psychologist Jean Twenge where she had a group of people mingle in a room, before asking them to choose who’d they like to partner up with for the next part of the experiment. Then one at a time, they told half the people that no one had chosen them so they’d better work alone. When they measured their time perception, time actually felt as though it were going by more slowly for people feeling rejected than for those who’d been told that they were so popular that everyone wanted to work with them. It’s amazing that it’s this easy to warp a person’s perception of time.

#4 – How do people react to some of the ideas in your book?

I’ve had emails from all over the world, which has been really nice. Lots of people have told me they’ve always been fascinated by time. I wonder whether perhaps we all are. We are know our time is limited, so we can’t fail to be interested in it.

The chapter on how one in five people sees time laid in space seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people. People have even send me elaborate drawings of how they personally view the months or the centuries set out before them. Just last week a student emailed me India to tell me that my book had inspired them to design a graphic novel about time and a psychiatrist told me he was changing the wording of the questions in a commonly-used psychiatric assessment tool as a result of reading the book. It’s lovely to have an impact, however small, in a way that I didn’t expect.

People have sent me their own theories about time too. One even asked if I could include their essay as an extra chapter when the book’s reprinted! I love the reactions I get at live events too, because the questions the audience ask me afterwards are never the same twice and they always get me thinking.

#5 – Are you working on any new projects/books that you can tell us about?

I have a new series starting on the BBC World Service at the end of June called The Truth about Life and Death, in which I’ve travelled to Cyprus, Bosnia, South Africa and Israel to look at the challenges people face at the start and end of life. We cover everything from low-cost fertility treatment in Cape Town to decisions about ventilation in Jerusalem when a person is dying. And on my BBC Radio 4 programme All in the Mind, which covers psychology, mental health and neuroscience, the finals of our 25th Birthday Mental Health Awards are coming up. Hundreds of people with mental health problems have nominated the individual, the professional or the group which has made a real difference for them. We’ve been hearing lovely stories of friends, bosses, psychologists, nurses and all sorts of other staff who’ve really gone the extra mile to help. So I’m really looking forward to the final where we can thank those amazing people and hopeful give other people some ideas too.

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