Sunday, January 30, 2011

Slow motion car accidents and traumatic events

Have you ever had an accident involving cars or bikes, falling off the roof or something dramatic? An event that had you scared or had your adrenaline rushing? Have you experienced the effect of time slowing down, thoughts rushing through your mind, details of the moment is startlingly clear and seared into your vision?

I recently wrote about our car accident and the entire event happening in slow motion when in reality the collision and accident probably occured over two to three seconds. After doing a bit of googling and reading up on time, motion, perspective and the 'slow motion' effect, I thought I'd expound on that notion for a bit since it is rather fascinating.

The Doctor of Slow Motion Studies and High Adrenaline Situations

There aren't that many studies or research paper out there that has studied this 'slow motion' effect. Dr David Eagleman seems to be the most obvious source of information since he focused his studies particularly on accidents, falling down several feet and why the traumatic event seems to happen in slow motion.

His study involved setting up a testing environment that generates the adrenaline, fear based type of rush that causes our mind to think it's in danger and therefore, generate the 'slow motion' effect. His test subjects (humans) were falling down 100-150 feet at 70 miles per hour onto a safety net. If you would like to read up on it, you can click here and read about his experiment in detail and why Dr Eagleman decided to become a neuroscientist.

A summary of his conclusion was that it's not because our brains become turbo charged and thinks super fast. It's more mundane. He says that "Normally, our memories are like sieves...We're not writing down most of what's passing through our system". However, in a perilous situation like car or biking accidents or falling off something, our brain kicks into hyperdrive and utilises an amazing amount of our memory abilities so that our minds record a richer depth of details.

Our brain normally stores bits and pieces of our day together and when we sleep, it combines the bits and pieces into a coherent memory and discards the irrelevant junk from our minds. In high adrenaline situation where we've been scared and experience the 'slow motion' effect, our brains have engaged the amygdala section that isn't normally engaged for our everyday memory in conjunction with the brain section that normally records our day, to form a dense and rich memory of the event, which is why we experience the 'slow motion' effect.

"In this way, frightening events are associated with richer and denser memories. And the more memory you have of an event, the longer you believe it took... Your brain is not like a video camera... It can seem as though an event has taken an unusually long time, but it doesn't mean your immediate experience of time actually expands. It simply means that when you look back on it, you believe it to have taken longer," says Dr Eagleman.

"This is related to the phenomenon that time seems to speed up as you grow older. When you're a child, you lay down rich memories for all your experiences; when you're older, you've seen it all before and lay down fewer memories. Therefore, when a child looks back at the end of a summer, it seems to have lasted forever; adults think it zoomed by."

During an event that frightens us, a brain area called the "amygdala becomes more active and that helps us to lay down secondary set of memories that go along with those normally taken care of by other parts of the brain."

The amygdala peforms a primary role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events.

That was a mundane conclusion wasn't it? It would have been different if his studies demonstrated that time had slowed down or that our brains processed thoughts or reality a lot faster than normal but apparently not. It's just a bit more diligent in recording the event and the details when it's usually complacent.

Cramming for an exam and the link to the amygdala section of the brain

I would have liked it if Dr Eagleman studied the brain and the link between cramming and memory. Could the same thing be happening when a student is stressed out, trying to cram for un upcoming exam? Could their stress combined with adrenaline help sear their studies into their brain? Why is it that some successful crammers can learn and memorise so effectively in stressful cram sessions as opposed to studying for an exam which is a few weeks away and not being able to memorise or learn as effectively.

Or that the capacity for learning, memorising and understanding is heightened and maximised when the exam is coming up?

I would have liked to see further studies on how to trigger richer and denser memories on demand. Imagine how useful that could be if you could learn to trigger this section of the brain (without having to go through trauma or emotional, high adrenaline events) and use it's ability to memorise and remember things in a faster and clearer manner.

1 comment:

  1. I have experienced the slow motion effect when I was in a fatal car accident 31 years ago, it was the worst case scenario. It happened out in the middle of nowhere during the middle of the night not a person, car nor houses in sight.
    Just me, my teenage boyfriend and two friends.
    Suddenly everything changed, the car suddenly rolled over itself and all of a sudden it was like a war zone breaking glass flying all around, loud breaking noises and accident noises after the car had rolled three complete rounds it stopped and everything went silent, deadly silent and I remember thinking and it came

    While the car rolled everything started happening in slow motion, broken glass flying all around me in a slow motion, giving me time to cover my face and I remember thinking about covering my face everything in this I remember very clear and I can say that this is my most vivid and clearest memory of all my memories.

    I didn´t realised just yet the server of the accident, but soon discovered that one of my friends was for sure dead, and the other two probably dying all covered in blood completely asleep, they were in life threating danger for many days and one of the two was for a long time recovering and still is.