Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How fast is your thinking?

Recently I was looking through the book, Orthomolecular Psychiatry: Treatment of Schizophrenia (by David Hawkins & Linus Pauling), where I came across a chapter entitled "Dyschronia: Disorders of Time Perception in Schizophrenia."  The author of the study asked people to set the metronome to how fast their thoughts were.  They also asked them how they felt about the metronome when it was set at different rates.

The reaction to the metronome varied significantly from person to person. People who felt that time was going by slowly set the metronome to a low rate.   Some people became anxious when the metronome was set too fast.  Other people were comforted by the metronome.

I thought this was interesting, so I looked online for a metronome and found this one:

I tried to set it at the rate of my thoughts, but I found this difficult to do. I finally settled on around 100 beats per minute.  I think I will try this when I feel decidedly depressed or on the manic side and see if my setting changes. (I feel weird today but I can't pinpoint on which side of normal I am today.)  It may be a good way to measure just exactly how fast or how slow my thoughts are going, which would give an actual number to that feeling that my thoughts are going crazy fast.  What is the rate of your thoughts?

The web metronome doesn't go as fast as the one they used in the study, although it does have a visual change that accompanies the beat.  The metronome the authors used had a light that also went on and off at the same time as the beat and it went to at least 300 beats per minute.

This made me think about why sometimes I like music with a fast beat and sometimes I don't.

The passage of time certainly changes for me.  Basically, if I'm having a difficult time, time seems to slow down. I tend to look at the clock more and try to keep myself busy.  If I am really focused and involved in something, time speeds up. Of course, this change in the perception of time is common with most (all?) people.  It doesn't have anything to do with mental illness.

However, the symptoms of mania include rapid speech, impulsiveness, distractibility, and racing thoughts which all seem to have to do with the speed of one's thoughts.  Perhaps people with bipolar disorder have more extremes in how they experience time, from really slow to really fast.

Sometimes you can tell that a person is a bit off (feeling strange) because they don't respond to you at the right tempo as you would expect. Some people have this incorrect rhytym all of the time... It's not wrong, but just different, which sometimes means that it takes them longer to respond to you, and sometimes this makes for an awkward conversation.  Every time you say something, you pause for a response, and then when they don't respond right away, you continue speaking, and then they will start speaking at the same time, and the conversation is a series of starts and stops.

If your thoughts are going fast, then you risk always interrupting the slower person, or talking from one topic to the next without pausing long enough for a response.  I used to always talk too fast and I have taught myself to slow down, although I still sometimes speak too fast. I still have trouble organizing my thoughts when I am speaking, especially on the telephone, because I don't have any visual clues.  I want to be as fluent verbally as I am in the written word... I think it takes practice.

I guess that is the end of this long post. Thank you for reading!


  1. Before I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I was able to process about 4 thoughts simultaneously. I had always had this ability. As the medications began to take effect on my mental illness, my thinking has slowed down considerably. I can only process one thought at a time nowadays. I miss the old days, but the alternative is complete psychotic break from reality.

  2. HB: Where are you? I haven't seen you in a while

  3. Thanks for the comments. It's great encouragement to keep writing. Sorry about my delay in publishing your comments. I've been.... in my usual place in the real world, but not on this blog. I've written some, and not posted it. Why? Oh, the many reasons... But fortunately my mood has been doing well lately. More posts to come soon.