Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Middle Adulthood (40–60)

Why does time seem to speed up as we age?

One of the dramatic experiences of middle adulthood involves the change in the subjective sense of time. To a small child, an hour seems like an eternity. The future does not exist. By early adulthood, time has sped up considerably from early childhood but the young adult still experiences time as relatively static. While the future exists in theory, only the present feels real.

In contrast, by mid-life every year is a much smaller fraction of the adult’s entire life span. Time seems to flow faster and faster, almost as if the person is walking on a moving sidewalk and the surrounding landscape is speeding up with every step. Because of this, middle aged adults have a less static sense of time. They experience themselves and their world in a sense of flux. The present is a moving target and the future is just around the bend. Likewise, middle aged adults are often surprised by the speed that the present retreats into the past. “That was twenty years ago? Already?” “These clothes are out of style? But I just bought them!”


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