Kin Cheung / AP

The language you speak can alter the way you think about and understand the passage of time, according to a recent study from the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

The focus group: The researchers gathered 40 Spanish speakers and 40 Swedish speakers to complete a series of tests using computer animation to show one of two conditions: estimating how long it took for two lines to grow and for a cup to fill up with water. Swedish speakers, like English speakers, tend to think of time in terms of length (i.e. "It's been a long day") while Spanish speakers typically describe time in terms of volume (i.e. "It's been a full day").

What happened: The first test showed two separate growing lines, one four inches long and the other six inches. Participants were explicitly told that each took three seconds to grow, but Swedish speakers thought more than three seconds had passed after the six-inch line grew to completion. Spanish speakers maintained that three seconds had passed, no matter the length.

Test #2: Although Spanish speakers understood the passage of time with growing lines, they were tripped up when asked to estimate the amount of time it took for a cup to fill halfway and completely with water. They estimated that more time had passed the fuller the cup was filled, while Swedish speakers didn't have a problem estimating how long it took.

Why it matters: The results suggest that language influences how we understand the passage of time, whether in terms of length or volume. One researcher, Emmanuel Bylund, told PopularScience, "Even babies who don't yet master language seem to have an association between physical length and temporal length." That means we may have an inherent tendency to associate physical length (or volume) with longer time.

But: It's important to remember that it's not binary — in some tests administered by the researchers, the participants weren't given notice of how long each task took; in those cases, both Spanish and Swedish speakers were fairly accurate in their estimations.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 30,199,007 — Total deaths: 946,490— Total recoveries: 20,544, 967Map
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:30 a.m. ET: 6,675,593 — Total deaths: 197,644 — Total recoveries: 2,540,334 — Total tests: 90,710,730Map
  3. Politics: Former Pence aide says she plans to vote for Joe Biden, accusing Trump of costing lives in his coronavirus response.
  4. Health: Pew: 49% of Americans wouldn't get COVID-19 vaccine if available today Pandemic may cause cancer uptick The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine — COVID-19 racial disparities extend to health coverage losses.
  5. Business: Retail sales return to pre-coronavirus trend.
Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Mike Bloomberg's anti-chaos theory

CNN's Anderson Cooper questions Joe Biden last night at a drive-in town hall in Moosic, Pa., outside Scranton. Photo: CNN

Mike Bloomberg's $100 million Florida blitz begins today and will continue "wall to wall" in all 10 TV markets through Election Day, advisers tell me.

Why it matters: Bloomberg thinks that Joe Biden putting away Florida is the most feasible way to head off the national chaos we could have if the outcome of Trump v. Biden remained uncertain long after Election Day.

Biden's hardline Russia reset

Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Getty Images photos: Mark Reinstein

When he talks about Russia, Joe Biden has sounded like Ronald Reagan all summer, setting up a potential Day 1 confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin if Biden were to win.

Why it matters: Biden has promised a forceful response against Russia for both election interference and alleged bounty payments to target American troops in Afghanistan. But being tougher than President Trump could be the easy part. The risk is overdoing it and making diplomacy impossible.