Our minds are like clocks when it comes to time and numbers, according to a new study.
In two experiments, scientists found that people associate small numbers with short time intervals and large numbers with longer intervals-suggesting that these two systems are linked in the brain.
It's clear that time and numbers are related in daily life, says Denise Wu of National Central University of Taiwan, who co-wrote the new study with Acer Chang, Ovid Tzeng, and Daisy Hung.
"We are really excited about this because this means the influence of the digit is so automatic and so immediate," she says.
The results suggest that the brain somehow processes time and the size of numbers together-possibly even with the same neurons.
So, maybe instead of having different parts of the brain devoted to different kinds of measurement, there's some part of the brain that is generally responsible for thinking about magnitude.
"It shows that it's not like, mentally, we have a clock and it is immune to all the other information," Wu says.
Instead, your concept of time is responding to other things going on in the brain. In this case, it's numbers, but it might also be influenced by emotion.
The study will be published in the journal Psychological Science.