It was with relief that those of us who had been locked down in Adelaide returned to some form of ‘normal’ life, albeit with masks, on Wednesday. What was surprising was that on Friday, we all agreed it had been ‘a very long week’. Clearly, in an objective sense it hadn’t been, three days instead of the usual five but we all knew what we felt, and we knew it was ‘true’.
So, what does lockdown do to our sense of time and memory and how do we explain it? Writing in The Conversation, Adam Osth, Senior Lecturer, The University of Melbourne who specialises in the computational modelling of memory explains our warped sense of time and unreliable memory through contextual-binding theory. This suggests that memories are formed through linking the experience that is remembered ‘to the context in which it occurred’. However, the more times events occur in the same context both externally and in the feelings and thoughts they generate the more difficult it becomes to access that one memory as more and more events have become linked to the same cues. No longer is it unique and extraordinary like a holiday to an amazing place or the birth of a child, but one of many. As Osth says, ‘In lockdown, the events we experience all have more or less the same context. If you’re spending almost all your time in your house, it’s harder to pinpoint individual memories of the things that happened there. It’s like doing a Google search where everything matches your search terms.’
Time is also affected by context with our estimation of elapsed time based on changes that have occurred between two experiences. Lockdown, with its inevitable sameness of context will certainly impact our sense of time passing.
It is interesting to consider the implications of this for therapy where we want our clients to remember the conversation and advice given in response to their request. Bower(note) the processes and protocols developed at Bower Place, aims to create a unique therapeutic context, quite different from any other in which the client has previously engaged. Not only does Bower(note) manage the inevitable inequality of the practitioner/ client encounter but it also creates a context where memory is more easily accessed, and information remains available to generate change.
Osth, A How the Groundhog Day Grind of Lockdown Scrambles your Memory and Sense of Time
The Conversation July 27, 2021, 5.56am AEST