Differences Between Biological, Chronological and Psychological Time

The differences between biological and chronological time have become very clear, as well as how these conceptions contrast with the idea of psychological time. Find out more about this fascinating topic.
Differences Between Biological, Chronological and Psychological Time

Last update: 16 January, 2023

On April 6, 1922, Albert Einstein, in the middle of a heated debate with the philosopher Henri Bergson and in front of the French Society of Philosophy, pronounced one of his most incendiary phrases: The time of the philosopher doesn’t exist, only psychological time remains, and this differs from physical time. Time is a very complex phenomenon, and today we’ll take a look at the differences between biological, chronological, and psychological time.

We have already told you about the differences between chronological age and biological age, so today we’ll complement what was discussed there with the differences between biological, chronological, and psychological time. Of course, we’ll look at these concepts in a superficial way, simplifying complex ideas so that you can assimilate them with ease.

What is biological time?

Biological time refers to the body’s adaptation with respect to the 24-hour rotation cycles of planet Earth. Also known as a biological clock, circadian clock, or circadian oscillator.

As the experts point out, biological time is regulated by an area called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, found in the anterior hypothalamus. This command center synchronizes the molecular biological clock found in most cells.

Indeed, almost all cells in peripheral tissues have their own internal clock. This “ clock” is coupled with the sleep-wake cycles, which, in turn, are combined with the dark-light cycles.

Among many other things, specialists point out that these rhythm oscillations affect blood pressure, body temperature, hormone production, and the number of immune cells present in the blood.

This regulation isn’t only present in humans, but also in animals, bacteria, and plants. In short, the metabolism and behavior of life on Earth have adapted to day/night cycles and their rotation (which is approximately 24 hours). Thanks to the internal biological clock:

  • You feel energetic and active in the morning and sleepy and tired at night
  • You don’t feel hungry while you sleep
  • You have more muscular strength during the afternoon.
  • Your body temperature rises automatically so that the brain can process information.

Biological time can be disrupted due to a number of factors. Some health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity can throw things out of control. Shift workers, those who travel across different time zones, blindness, and indoor lighting can do the same.

In short, the way you interpret time is biologically mediated in cells. Based on circadian rhythms, your body alters certain systems that allow you to manage basic activities throughout the day. It’s an evolutionary mechanism that has adapted to the rotation of our planet.

What is chronological time?

The differences between biological and chronological time are evident.
Every day is filled with reminders that humans have created various tools to help measure chronological time.

Chronological time is understood to be the apparent progression of events. Human beings have designed strategies to measure it, such as seconds, minutes, and hours. Calendars, numbers, and clocks can also be counted among these strategies. Chronological time is of special interest in physics and mathematics.

Our conception of time changed drastically with the ideas of Albert Einstein. He taught us that time is relative, since it can slow down or speed up according to gravity (in very simple terms). The famous twin paradox accounts for this concept known as time dilation.

Man uses chronological time to organize practically all aspects of life. For example, there is what is known as international atomic time. There are several atomic clocks in the world, and they periodically report the exact time to the Bureau International de l’Heure (BIH) in Paris to determine international time.

In short, and to simplify complexities, chronological time is the time that you can observe on your watch or mobile, which we use to organize the different activities of daily life.

What is psychological time?

Differences between biological and chronological time can be subjective.
Depending on a person’s mental state, the perception of time can change a lot in each individual.

As the experts tell us, sometimes time is more a construction of the mind than a reflection of an established chronometric order. The duration, rhythm, and order of events can be perceived differently, depending on the person.

Although it’s independent of chronological time, researchers point out that there’s a certain correspondence between one and the other.

Indeed, if there were no relationship between psychological time and chronological time, the interpretation of reality would be impossible. Psychological time is often regulated by emotions.

For example, time may seem to go slower when you’re bored and faster when you’re having fun. The place, the people around you, the weather, and other factors can also affect it.

It’s a more complex phenomenon than it seems

Time can also be a subjective construction, although this doesn’t imply that there’s a total disconnection with the actual time.

It’s conditioned by people’s moods and disposition, and, in the process, external stimuli are also taken into account. It isn’t currently known how this process develops, so it’s more complex than what we’ve been able to consider in this article.

The differences between biological and chronological time have become very clear, as well as how these conceptions contrast with the idea of psychological time. Despite the differences, we can’t say that biological, chronological, and psychological time are completely disconnected.

On the contrary, they’re so tightly woven together, making time an experience we all share, albeit in different ways, and this is what allows us to interpret a shared reality.

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  • Zakay, D. (2016). Psychological time. In Philosophy and psychology of time. Springer, Cham. 2016; 53-66.

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