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Scientists Explain the ‘Pandemic Time-Warp’ and Find Who Is Most Affected

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Since the pandemic, GPs are increasingly reporting that patients find it difficult to give an exact history of their illness.  This unexpected effect of the pandemic prompted researchers from the University of Aberdeen to investigate what is causing this and who may be most affected.  

Daria Pawlak and Professor Arash Sahraie from the School of Psychology examined how accurately 277 people could date highly publicised events between 2017 and 2021. Examples included, “in which year Brexit was finalised?” and “when did the Evergreen container ship get stuck in the Suez Canal?”. 

The results are published today in PLOS One.  

As expected, the data showed that people were not good in recalling the timing of events that took place many years ago and better for more recent events. However, contrary to expectations, they found that people were just as bad at remembering the timelines for events in 2021, as they were in 2017.  

Professor Sahraie explained: “We found that people could not remember when events happened during the pandemic – in fact, their accuracy for recalling the timing of these events was as bad as events that had happened 3 or 4 years earlier. 

“Effectively, what the pandemic has done is to take away the ability to remember when events happened.” 

The accuracy of remembering the timing of events was worse for those people who had higher signs of anxiety, depression and stress, however, those who had higher resilience were less likely to make errors.  

Professor Sahraie explained: “One explanation for the findings may be to do with how our psychological state alters the perception of the passing of time, such as the perceived ‘slowing down’ of time when there is little to occupy the mind.” 

Professor Sahraie interprets their findings broadly in relation to a “timescape”. He explained: “If you stand on a hill, you will have in front of you a landscape. You can look around and see your position in relation to some anchor points such as famous buildings and hills and then describe all other places in how far they are from these anchor points.  

“There is an equivalent called ‘timescape’. That is knowing where you presently are in relation to all the events over the timeline.  

“The pandemic related restrictions removed all the usual anchor points in time, such as birthday celebrations, funerals, holidays and get togethers that allow us to place events in this timescape. Without the anchor points, the events merge together. 

“While we are starting to understand the impact the pandemic has had on the economy, our physical health and our mental health – there is still much to understand about how the enforced lockdowns, stress and isolation may continue to affect us in different ways in the future.” 

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