Perception of time is not the same for all living things, allowing some species – including humans – to visually observe things faster than others, according to a new study.
The new study, described as time perception, shows that animals that fly, are very small or hunt in water are able to perceive more frames per second than larger, land-based animals. The same study also notes that some people may have better temporal perception than others, allowing them to perform jobs or tasks for which others are less suited.
“The ability to interact with the environment depends on the ability to perceive it,” the researchers write in the abstract of their study. “Perhaps one of the most fundamental examples of this is the speed with which an animal can perceive the changing world, or its temporal perception.”
Led by Dr. Kevin Healy of the University of Galway, the researchers analyzed the speed at which animals perceive time using the results of well-known flickering light experiments conducted in a number of different studies. These flicker light experiments, which measure what the researchers call the “critical flicker fusion frequency,” involve turning the light on and off at an ultra-fast frequency and then measuring the response of the optic nerve with a device called an electroretinogram. The measurement finds out how fast the animal can detect the flicker of light until it becomes so fast that the optic nerve simply perceives the light as being on all the time.
Scientists note that the ability to perceive time faster than others is not just a curious feature, but a distinct evolutionary advantage.
“Fast vision helps the species perceive rapid changes in the environment,” Dr. Healy explains. “This detailed perception of change is very useful if you’re moving fast or you need to pinpoint the trajectory of moving prey.”
After a detailed analysis of previous flickering light experiments, the researchers found some interesting patterns in the findings. For example, very small animals, especially some flying insects and birds, have a perception of time that even Superman would envy. Moreover, animals that lead what the researchers believe are active lifestyles “have visual systems capable of detecting changes at a faster rate.”
” It is assumed that some species, such as aerial predators, require higher temporal abilities compared to species with a sedentary nature,” the study authors explain, and these expectations have been confirmed by test results.
For example, the animals with the fastest perception of time were fireflies and dragonflies: their frequency was an astonishing 300 Hz, which means that they can notice changes 300 times per second. Humans, on the other hand, usually perceive time at a rather modest frequency of 65 Hz, which is about one-fifth less than that of dragonflies.
The fastest of the vertebrates tested was the fast-moving flycatcher, a bird with an impressive critical flicker fusion frequency of 146 Hz. Salmon showed 96 Hz, and dogs perceived time only slightly faster than humans, about 75 Hz.