Cognitive Bias and Time Perception

cognitive bias time perception

We think older things are better than newer things. Old history is more interesting than recent history. If we’re already spent lots of time on it, we should spend more. If something took longer to produce, it’s worth more than something done quickly. If something endures, we should take it more seriously than something fleeting.

Each of these statements is a cognitive bias worthy of interrogation.


Antique bias is the tendency to perceive older items or objects as having greater value, quality, or authenticity compared to newer counterparts. Older items may be associated with craftsmanship, durability, or a sense of history.

Sometimes things last a long time because they’re good (jambalaya). But that doesn’t mean that because something has lasted a long time that it is good (penile subincisions). Apply this to relationships, careers, and beliefs as appropriate. 

Less Wrong


Vintage bias refers to the preference for items from a specific era or period, often considered the “golden age” of a particular product or style. People may believe that items produced during so-called Golden Ages have a unique charm or quality that newer versions lack.

Both antique bias and vintage bias reflect the idea that older objects are considered better than their newer counterparts due to various factors such as nostalgia, perceived quality, or cultural significance.

Related to this, we are inclined to extend this bias to history, meaning the further back in time something happened, the more intriguing and significant it must be. This bias is especially obvious to a well-known New Zealand historian, namely because New Zealand has the shortest human history of everywhere in the world. Here he is in interview:

QUESTION: How old is New Zealand’s human history?

HISTORIAN JAMES BELICH: The latest is that it’s [it was settled] around 1280 AD or CE which is extraordinarily short in comparison to other human societies. So about 800 years old.

INTERVIEWER: That is very short, isn’t it. That compares very differently to Australia, where there’s an enormous [history] of human habitation.

JAMES BELICH: That’s right. Australia was first populated about 60 thousand years ago. So New Zealand’s human history is one of the youngest on Earth. Interestingly enough, it’s that which gives it a special dynamic. It’s not the length that counts in history. Short histories can be as interesting as long ones.

History Extra Podcast: New Zealand: everything you wanted to know podcast.

Belich also laments that the science of genomics is no good for determining the origin of Māori peoples to New Zealand because genomics works much better at a macro level.

Later in the interview, Belich is asked about a conspiracy theory in which Europeans visited New Zealand before Abel Tasman in 1642:

JAMES BELICH: [An earlier encounter is] a remote possibility but it doesn’t really matter because it didn’t have any impact. If a drowning Spanish sailor did come ashore, so what? The legend is powered by the desire of people for romance in history ― which is fair enough ― [but] there’s plenty of real romance and real drama without having to invent it.

But [the conspiracy is] also powered by the strange desire to push one’s history back in time. The older a history is the more respectable it is. But I think that New Zealanders should welcome the fact that their history is short and therefore has particular qualities that should be of wide interest.

History Extra Podcast: New Zealand: everything you wanted to know podcast.


The cognitive bias in which the longer something takes to create, the more valuable it is perceived to be is often referred to as the “sunk cost fallacy” or “escalation of commitment.”

The sunk cost fallacy is a cognitive bias where people continue to invest in a decision, project, or endeavour because they have already invested a significant amount of time, effort, or resources into it, even when it no longer makes rational sense to do so. In this context, people may attribute greater value to something that has taken a long time to create simply because they have (or someone has) already invested a substantial amount of time into it. This bias can lead to poor decision-making, as it focuses on past costs rather than evaluating the current and future benefits.

The escalation of commitment is a related bias where individuals continue to invest more resources into a project or decision, even when evidence suggests that it is not likely to succeed. This can also be driven by the desire to justify the time and effort already spent on the endeavour.

Both biases can result in decisions that are not in line with rational cost-benefit analysis and can lead to a misperception of the value of something based on the time invested rather than its actual merits or potential outcomes.

Freakonomics published an episode about the Sunk Cost fallacy called “The Upside of Quitting“.


Also known as Labour Perception Bias

Just because something doesn’t take long to produce doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.

But there’s a cognitive bias in which an object is considered more valuable or superior based on the perception of the time and effort invested in its creation.

This is often called the “labour illusion” or the “effort justification bias.”

If one artwork took 10 weeks to create, it may be perceived as more valuable or superior to something that took 10 minutes, even if the quality is equal to or less than that of 10 minute artwork.

Steve Keene paints a lot. At a pace of “eight hours a day painting, up to 120 canvases at a time, 52 weeks a year,” Keene has made and sold well over a quarter of a million of his distinctively garish, plywood-panel paintings. They go for about ten bucks a pop. (Good luck buying one, though—his site has said he’s “swamped” for a while now!)

David Maldower’s newsletter, The Maven Game, in which Maldower urges against perfectionism.

The Labour Illusion Bias is not based on objective quality but on the perception of effort or time invested.

This bias has real effects for people working in creative industries and billing for hours. Graphic design is a good example. Below, veteran designer Paula Scher explains her process:

INTERVIEWER: Clients, driven by the need to perceive value for their investment, expect a laborious creative process. Do you tend to make them think you’ve sweated hours?

WORLD FAMOUS GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Well, I don’t really have any choice. You know, they’ll always make sure they get the hours even if I design it in the first five minutes. I sometimes spend five minutes designing something and a year proving it.

INTERVIEWER: Ah, so it’s the convincing that takes the time.

WORLD FAMOUS GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Oh, design would be such a wonderful thing without persuading people to use it. The persuading them to use it is the hard part. Persuading someone to appear differently or do something that shakes things up a bit ― and particularly making the investment [is] where I’m empathetic to them. I mean, if it’s a clothing store and they’re changing their packaging and logo they’re going to have to change every label on all the clothing. I mean, it’s a massive operation. … I’m an instinctive designer and I’m very good at the beginning and I need to get myself to focus on the details because it’s all in the details in the end, when you’re doing any kind of retail branding. Like, the choice of the paper, or the way something appears in the store, how the identity manifests itself in a teeny-weeny spot or in a very big spot. These things require a lot of time and patience and work. But the actual thinking about what they should be is much more impulsive.

Graphic designer Paula Scher: painting with words, Saturday Morning With Kim Hill, RNZ, Friday 25 August 2023

As artificial intelligence enters more and more domains, questions about labour and time will become even more relevant. Is a work of art work less in real terms if AI was involved in the creation process?


Endurance bias happens when something is given more weight or importance because it is perceived as enduring or long-lasting.

The endurance bias occurs when people overvalue or prioritize things that are expected to last for a long time or have enduring qualities, while underestimating the significance of temporary or short-lived factors.

In essence, the endurance bias leads individuals to believe that something that endures is inherently more valuable or important than something that is fleeting or temporary, even when other factors should be considered in the assessment.

As an example, gender identity is usually given more weight when it is thought to be enduring and, in fact, gender affirming healthcare is withheld unless individuals can prove that their gender is ‘sticky’:

Gender, in order to be performed successfully and felicitously must be done as if you were already and had always been that way, no matter how ridiculous it is claim to be so. You’re never to show your work. To show your work is to raise the question of whether your gender is unnatural to you.

Did Hemingway Write Transgender Literature? Lecture by Torrey Peters, Lit House podcast, Sunday 11 June 2023
Chelsea Bridge also says: “what we often discover on the other side of transition is that pretransition memories affect us differently than they did before. we might have dissociated through them, recontextualization changes our interpretation, dysphoria alters perception, etc. the past is pseudomutable.”

If you read a lot of liberals on trans rights you realize their attachment to liberalism is grounded in essentialist “born this way” identities and trans people challenge that faulty concept of identity, so much so they’ll allow for illiberal suppression of trans people if it protects that concept


Duration neglect is the psychological observation that people’s judgments of the unpleasantness of painful experiences depend very little on the duration of those experiences. Multiple experiments have found that these judgments tend to be affected by two factors: the peak (when the experience was the most painful) and how quickly the pain diminishes. If it diminishes more slowly, the experience is judged to be less painful. Hence, the term “peak–end rule” describes this process of evaluation.

Duration neglect is a specific form of the more general extension neglect.



This bias occurs when people have a preference for things to stay the same or to maintain their current state. It can lead individuals to perceive familiar or existing situations, decisions, or options as better or safer than alternatives, simply because they are more accustomed to the current state. This bias can influence decision-making and resistance to change, even when change might be more beneficial.

In Kierkegaard and the Changelessness of God: A Modern Defense of Classical Immutability (InterVarsity Press, 2023), Craig A. Hefner explores Kierkegaard’s reading of Scripture and his theology to argue not only that the great Dane was a modern defender of the doctrine of divine immutability (or God’s changelessness) in response to the disintegration of the self, but that his theology can be a surprising resource today.

Even as the church continues to be beset by “shifting shadows” (James 1:17), Kierkegaard can remind us of the good and perfect gifts that come from an unchanging God.

New Books Network


“John Maynard Keynes saw the truth at the bottom of all this, which is that our fixation on what he called “purposiveness”—on using time well for future purposes, or on “personal productivity,” he might have said, had he been writing today—is ultimately motivated by the desire not to die. “The ‘purposive’ man,” Keynes wrote, “is always trying to secure a spurious and delusive immortality for his actions by pushing his interests in them forward into time. He does not love his cat, but his cat’s kittens; nor in truth the kittens, but only the kittens’ kittens, and so on forward forever to the end of cat-dom.

For him, jam is not jam unless it is a case of jam tomorrow and never jam today. Thus by pushing his jam always forward into the future, he strives to secure for his act of boiling it an immortality.” Because he never has to “cash out” the meaningfulness of his actions in the here and now, the purposive man gets to imagine himself an omnipotent god, whose influence over reality extends infinitely off into the future; he gets to feel as though he’s truly the master of his time.

But the price he pays is a steep one. He never gets to love an actual cat, in the present moment. Nor does he ever get to enjoy any actual jam. By trying too hard to make the most of his time, he misses his life.”

Oliver Burkeman, Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The person getting older and older but not going after their dreams is engaged in a different version of Death Thought Avoidance from the person highly focused on productivity:

By refusing to make a start on something important, they are postponing the possibility of things not working out, and can persuade themselves that time is not passing anyway, because the possibilities are all ahead of them, in some imagined ideal future.

But in the end, the procrastinator and the productivity enthusiast can both get caught up in the idea of spurious immortality.

The average human lifespan is absurdly, insultingly brief. Assuming you live to be eighty, you have just over four thousand weeks.

Nobody needs telling there isn’t enough time. We’re obsessed with our lengthening to-do lists, our overfilled inboxes, work-life balance, and the ceaseless battle against distraction; and we’re deluged with advice on becoming more productive and efficient, and “life hacks” to optimize our days. But such techniques often end up making things worse. The sense of anxious hurry grows more intense, and still the most meaningful parts of life seem to lie just beyond the horizon. Still, we rarely make the connection between our daily struggles with time and the ultimate time management problem: the challenge of how best to use our four thousand weeks.

Adam Conover: If you get married and have kids you can’t do a bunch of other stuff that you would do otherwise but if you do all that other stuff you don’t have the experience of getting married and having kids. You have to make a choice … a lot of times we don’t want to face that. But you write how rich it can be, making that choice.

Oliver Burkeman: Well yeah, I think the big liberation here is to see it isn’t really a choice between closing down options and keeping options open because actually we’re always closing down options. And so it’s really just a question of becoming more conscious of something that is already true, which I think is an easier thing to do rather than radically changing your life. So one of the things I wrote about in the book … is commitment phobia, in relationships but certainly in other areas of life as well, right? [The idea] that you’re not really deciding yet if you just sort of hang back and wait to commit. But of course you are deciding. You’re deciding to spend that portion of your life in a state of not having committed. If you decide to spend ten years on dating apps rather than settling down with someone―that may be the right thing for you! I’m not saying people should get married at twenty-one―but you’re not escaping finitude in that way. You’re just using up some of your life in a different way, and it’s fine if it’s the right way to use up some of your life. But it’s not fine if you’re convinced that you’re not really doing that, keeping all your options open.

Every moment we decide to do anything we’re closing down the options for using that moment for anything else. … It’s actually freeing, because then you get to say, okay, I’m already closing down options. I’m already burning bridges. I’m waving goodbye to possibilities at every moment of my life. I can’t do anything about that. Nobody can do anything about that. All you can do is … go in directions that seem promising.

There’s an anecdote … from a talk that Sam Harris gave. Our lives are full of experiences that we’re doing for the last time and we don’t know it’s going to be the last time. It’s an extraordinarily alarming thought, in a sense, that certain friends, certain places you visit, they may well be the last time you see that place, that person, but you wouldn’t know. This gets more frequent the older you get but it’s actually happening at every point. Beyond that, every moment is like that.

Every single moment is a moment that you’re never going to get to live again and it’s happening right now, all the time, even if you’re twenty. Never mind if you’re getting to be middle-aged like me and it’s really obvious that that’s the case.

That notion is alarming, but the fact that it’s built in for everybody and unavoidable is actually kind of liberating because then it’s like, okay, we just need to figure out some half-way decent ways to deal with that.

Death to Productivity with Oliver Burkeman, Wednesday 8 February 2023, Factually podcast

Adam Conover then talks about the ‘illusion of time free experiences’, like the few hours you get to yourself at the end of a busy day when you decide to sit down and scroll on your phone, or that liminal space between Christmas and New Year when you think, “Who gives a sh!t about this time?” He recommends saying to yourself, that’s fine. It’s fine to ‘waste’ this time and not consider it a ‘waste’.

“We have this illusion that we’re going to live great lives, that we’ll do something massive and world historical.”

We need only to turn to reality TV to find examples of people who―to the rest of us―have it all, but who are still striving for more due to some deep-seated and unexplored need for their own lives to Mean Something.

Dr Kate Adams (Bondi Vet) of the 2023 season of Real Housewives of Sydney is a good example of a highly successful person by any measure who faces the insecurity of Significance perhaps more than most people:

Kate seems to do very well for herself for someone who spends her days administering worming tablets: She has a walk-in wardrobe that’s bigger than my apartment, sees a personal trainer five times a week and gets driven around Sydney each day in the back of a town car.

Real Housewives of Sydney episode 1 recap: ‘Porn star’ drama erupts

Kate tells the others that turning 40 has given her a “small mid-life crisis.” Despite being so successful a vet that she’s ferried around town by her own personal driver, she feels she hasn’t achieved much as she hits this milestone birthday.

Real Housewives of Sydney episode 3 recap: A wild boat party for an ‘onion’ birthday
For Dr Kate, the idea of ‘onceness’ is presented as alarming rather than comforting.

Conover finds it comforting to remember that 10,000 years from now, no one will remember Steve Jobs, except maybe when they try to work out what’s behind the toxic metals in the ground left behind as iPhone waste.

Ambition can be a curse, he admits. Accepting that there is no such thing as a great significant life is comforting and startling. What a relief to finally, really understand this.


If you zoom out to civilizational time, or the history of the planet or the history of the cosmos, by definition, nothing anybody is doing is significant on that scale. Human civilisation is the blink of an eye, let alone any particular lifetime in it. It’s easy to say, well, that doesn’t that demotivate people? … Why are we using as the standard of meaning this systematically unattainable thing? Why do you conclude that if something isn’t going to matter 1000 years from now, it doesn’t matter? Why be so against the notion of meaning in the present or meaning in the next couple of decades? Why be so intent on your name mattering through the echoes of history rather than, say, make a difference right now?

I’m drawing on the philosophy of Iddo Landau, pointing out, we don’t need to have this standard of meaning.

We know from experiences with caring for people for people we love who are sick or making a meal for our kids, or whatever, just being in nature―there’s all sorts of experiences where you feel very alive, but are really hard to justify on the grounds that in a few millennia it will matter whether we did that thing or not.

I would say, in terms of my own relationship with ambition, it doesn’t make a mockery of that at all. It frees it up. Isn’t it far more fun to try to get bigger audiences, do more impressive things, create more amazing work, win more awards just because it’s a fun way of being alive, instead of this idea that you might get to a point where it was going to echo down the centuries.

Occasionally there are Shakespeares and Leonardo da Vincis and they do echo for a good few centuries … for some people [the meaningful life] will be a one-to-many thing, like celebrity and fame and for a lot of people and for a lot of people that could be a much quieter life but that could be just as significant.

Oliver Burkeman

Don’t wait for your life to magically come together – it’s your work to do. Every day, every moment, you are making your life from scratch. Today, take one step, however small, toward creating a life you can be proud of.

Maggie Smith

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.

Annie Dillard

Whatever one achieves by efforts directed at anti-aging, one still winds up older than the younger version of oneself. Even during the time spent in pursuit of anti-aging, we are…aging. The very time spent making the comparison widens the divide.

David L. Katz


Notably, the “symptoms” that currently make up the autism diagnosis
in the DSM-5 primarily refer to temporal misdemeanors.

Criterion A includes so-called failures of reciprocity, such as length of eye contact or “normal back-and-forth conversation” (APA 2013), while criterion B is concerned with fixedness of interests “abnormal in intensity or focus,” as well as
“repetition,” “sameness,” “inflexibility,” and “adherence to routines or ritualized patterns” (APA 2013). Nonetheless, Laura Kate Dale (2019) points to an unlisted criterion that always precedes diagnosis: having become a disruption to others.

Further, in Noah Adams and Bridget Liang’s interview with mixed-race autistic-trans man Reynard, the temporality of disruption itself seems to be racialized, with Reynard’s comportment interpreted as “aggressive and loud” only in white spaces.

Autistic Disruptions, Trans Temporalities: A Narrative “Trap Door” in Time, Jake Pyne 2021


Reached that age where everything I think happened 2-3 years ago really happened in 2003.

– @simoncholland


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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