Perceptive Time Slows Down for Athletes Before They Act


Athletes experience a sensation of time dilation when anticipating hitting the ball.

Scientists at the University College London have discovered that an individual’s perception of time does seem to slow when they prepare to make a physical action. The study indicates that in professional athletes, this capacity might be increased.

The scientists published their findings in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Getting ready to pick up a ball, or smash it, affects the way that the brain processes information.


Tennis players and F1 drivers report the feeling of time slowing down when they are about to hit the ball or overtake another racer. During the motor preparation, visual information processing in the brain seems to be enhanced. More information would be coming in, and that could make perceived time be longer and slower than it actually is.

The perception of time dilation was first examined by Nobuhiro Hagura, cognitive neuroscientist at the UCL and lead author, after hearing the experiences of big-hitting baseball stars in Japan. The UCL team carried out simple experiments to see the reaction time of volunteers. The more prepared the subjects were to make an action, the longer the time they perceived seemed.

The actual physiological mechanism behind this perceived slowdown of time is unknown, but it could be related to how well the brain maximizes the flow of information coming from the eyes. The next step involves using an EEG to see the participants’ brain activity. This would allow them to see what is happening in the visual cortex of the subjects.

It would also make sense to run experiments on some professional athletes to see how this mechanism affects them.

Reference: “Ready steady slow: action preparation slows the subjective passage of time” by Nobuhiro Hagura, Ryota Kanai, Guido Orgs and Patrick Haggard, 5 September 2012, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1339

1 Comment on "Perceptive Time Slows Down for Athletes Before They Act"

  1. In my youth, I participated in many athletic tournaments. In the very few that I won, that sort of thing usually happened. My fellow winners sometimes mentioned the same thing. It is great that the science is catching up.

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