04/23/2012 11:27 am ET Updated Apr 23, 2012

Too Much Free Time Could Make Us Feel Too Busy, Study Suggests

By Christie Nicholson
(Click here for the original article and podcast)

Objectively time is constant. A minute is a minute. But when we have a lot to do, it usually feels like we have less time. Now a study finds an interesting wrinkle in time: when we busy ourselves with selfless tasks, time seems to expand. The work will be published the journal Psychological Science.

Researchers interrupted more than 200 students in class and asked them to complete different five-minute tasks. Some had to cross out the letter “e” in pages of text. Others wrote a letter to a sick child. When surveyed afterward, the group that wrote letters perceived themselves to have more time in general than those who did the crossing out.

In another experiment one group of subjects were given a period of free time to do whatever they wanted, while another group had to do something for someone else. Those who did something selflessly perceived themselves as having more time than those with no obligations. Those subjects also reported a stronger sense of personal power and effectiveness.

Many Americans have more leisure time today than ever before. Wouldn’t it be ironic if all that free time contributes to the feeling that we have none?