Lost time: perception of events timeline affected by the COVID pandemic

Daria A. Pawlak, Arash Sahraie* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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The need to remember when a past event occurred, is often an everyday necessity. However, placing events in a timeline is seldom accurate and although to some extent modulated by event saliency, on average we are less accurate in remembering a timeline for events happening in the distant past compared to more recent events. 277 participants took part in an online study during May 2022 in which they were asked to state the year in which a number of events took place. The events’ occurrences ranged from 2017 to 2021, with participants choosing one date from the 2016-2022 range. In addition, they completed 4
questionnaires aimed at quantifying their State Boredom; Depression, Anxiety & stress; resilience; and level of activity during the lockdown periods of the COVID pandemic. As expected, the findings showed more errors for distant events than those in 2020, but surprisingly we found a large error for estimating the timing of events that occurred in 2021 matching in the extent to those 3 to 4 years earlier. The findings show that participants were less able to recall the timeline of very recent events coinciding with COVID lockdowns. This increased error in perception of event timeline correlated positively with reported levels of depression & anxiety as well as physical and mental demands during the pandemic, but negatively correlated with measures of resilience. Although measures of boredom showed significant correlations with reported depression & anxiety and physical/mental load, they did not correlate with errors in the perception of the event timeline for 2021. The findings are consistent with poor perception of event timeline reported previously in prison inmates. It is likely that an accurate perception of an event timeline relies on a collection of life events such as birthdays, holidays, travels, etc., anchoring our experiences in the time domain, which was largely absent during COVID restrictions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number0278250
Number of pages11
JournalPloS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2023

Bibliographical note

The authors received no specific funding for this work.

Data Availability Statement

The data underlying the results presented in the study are available from Open Science Forum at: https://osf.io/79n8g/.


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