Maria Konnikova, writing in the New York Times, made the point recently that there’s much more to poverty than just a shortage of money. Being poor, she said, brings with it other abstract deficits, most notably a lack of time. She quoted Sendhil Mullainathan, an economist and the author of the book Scarcity: “The biggest mistake we make about scarcity is we view it as a physical phenomenon. It’s not.”
Saying time is scarce seems imprecise, given that each day, no one has more than 24 hours. But what can change from person to person, and what shapes the way we map out our days, is our subjective perception of time—how quickly it passes and how much of it we think we have.
A new study out of the University of California at Berkeley examined how the perception of time can be distorted by being in a position of power. With the help of hundreds of people, the study’s authors found that the more power people have, the more time they feel they have available in their lives. The researchers primed some subjects for feelings of either power or powerlessness by assigning them to the role of either boss or employee in a mock task of solving brain teasers. The bosses were told they’d be making decisions about which puzzles to solve and how to divvy up the highly-sought-after candy prize at the end of the exercise. Once primed, the subjects filled out surveys that revealed their perceptions of time availability.