Scots scientists explain how Covid created 'pandemic time warp'

A study has found people were just as bad at remembering the timelines for events in 2021, as they were for those six years ago.

Scots scientists explain how Covid created ‘pandemic time warp’ Getty Images

Do you struggle to remember when events happened during the pandemic?

Do you recall when the Evergreen container ship became stuck in the Suez Canal?

Or in what year Brexit was finalised?

Since the pandemic, GPs are increasingly reporting patients find it difficult to give an exact history of their illness.

This unexpected effect of Covid prompted researchers from the University of Aberdeen to investigate the cause.

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 the questions above.

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.

“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 three or four years earlier,” Professor Sahraie explained.

“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.

“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 said.

Birthdays, funerals, holidays and get-togethers

Professor Sahraie said the pandemic removed the usual anchor points in time that give us a sense of perspective.

“If you stand on a hill, you will have in front of you a landscape,” he explained.

“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.”

An equivalent is called a “timescape” in which birthday celebrations, funerals, holidays and get-togethers allow us to place events in relation to others.

“The pandemic related restrictions removed all the usual anchor points in time,” the professor said.

“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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