(Bloomberg) -- The psychological toll of Covid lockdowns could lead some people to misremember the timing of recent events, according to a new study published by University of Aberdeen researchers.
The lapses were similar to distorted time perception observed among some prisoners, said the study, conducted in 2022 and published in open-access journal Plus One on Wednesday.
While it’s not unusual for people to mix up the timing of events that took place in the distant past, the researchers found that people who’d lived under pandemic-era lockdowns exhibited similar levels of error on events that happened just a year ago. It was especially pronounced among those who felt stressed, depressed and anxious living under the measures.
“The feeling of loneliness leads to emotional distortions such as higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression” which adversely influenced time judgment ability, the researchers said in the study.
Countries across the world saw lockdowns that lasted for weeks and even months as authorities scrambled to contain Covid, with people in cities as far-flung as London, Beijing and Melbourne forced to stay home or in close radius for extended periods of time. There have long been concerns about the impact of such stringent isolation measures on mental health, and the Aberdeen study is one of the first to shed scientific light on the consequences.
Some 270 participants over age 21 who’d lived in the UK the previous four years were asked to nail down the timing of major news events including Brexit, Meghan Markle joining the British Royal Family and the start of the Covid vaccination program.
Their ability to pinpoint the timing of things that happened in 2021 was worse than for occasions that took place during the previous two years — and on a similar level for occurrences that took place as far back as 2017.
Researchers attributed the findings to the social isolation that came as a result of lockdown, when people were largely deprived of birthdays, weddings and other gatherings that typically help anchor perception of time.
Still, not everyone’s memory has been blurred by lockdown-induced mental discomfort: The researchers also found that people who demonstrated greater resilience while dealing with such measures were able to more accurately recall the timing of recent major events.
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