What day is it today?
After a federal holiday has blessed us with a long weekend, I’ve found myself asking this simple question more times that I’d like to admit. Turns out, my memory lapses are normal because science has shown that even if you give us extra days off, we’re still animals wedded to routine — and our brains will instinctually think it’s Friday when it’s actually Thursday.
We use our two-day weekends to set our internal clocks
New York Magazine’s Science of Us section looked at this problem recently. A famous 1974 study showed how we set our internal clocks to our weekends. The researchers in this study wanted to test the hypothesis of whether the “ease of answering a question about a point in time is a function of its distance from the operative landmark.”
So they started asking passers-by on a college campus what day of the week it was. The researchers found that we use the typical weekend days, Saturday and Sunday, as our anchoring points in time.
Their hypothesis on “operative landmarks” proved true. The further people were from the weekend, the longer it took them to answer the simple question of “what day is it?” and the harder time they had of getting the question right. In other words, our proximity to the weekend is our North Star to guiding how we set time.
It makes sense then that when our routine weekend days flip, or get extended on holiday weekends, our internal clocks are thrown off even more.
Other factors that can unmoor you in time
There are other factors that can change our perception of time, and make it harder to remember what day it is.
Stressful work days, drinking alcohol, and enduring illnesses have all been linked to affecting our brain’s ability to recall basic information like what day it is.
But the point is, it’s not just you. There are external factors at play here. So next time people at work look at you funny for not knowing what day it is after a short week, you can tell them that, no really, time got away from you.