Longing for tomorrow: phenomenology, cognitive psychology, and the methodological bases of exploring time experience in depression

  • Federica Cavaletti
  • Katrin Heimann


The subjective experience of time in depression has been described to be altered in complex ways, with sensations of particular slowness, delay or stillness being the most often named articulations. However, the attempts to provide empirical evidence to the phenomenon of “time slowing down in depression” have resulted in inconsistent findings. In consequence, the overall claim that depressive time somehow differs from ordinary time has often been discarded as unfounded. The article argues against such conclusion, contending that the described ambiguity might be caused by the methods employed to assess the phenomenon under observation. In the first part of the article, a reconceptualization of the experience of time in depression is proposed on the grounds of classic and contemporary phenomenological psychiatry. This leads to identify the essential features of depressive time as described both in clinical and philosophical contexts. In the second part, a critique of the existing methods of time perception assessment is conducted, with a specific focus on duration estimation and time passage perception tasks. The above-mentioned core features serve as guidelines in discussing to what degree such methods fit the phenomenon at stake. Finally, an alternative and innovative method is put forward, that might not only help to explore the scope of existing methods but might itself present an alternative to such: the micro-phenomenological interview.


Depression Time experience Duration estimation Time passage perception Phenomenological psychiatry Micro-phenomenology 



This work was developed as a project within a bigger research network funded by the PRIN grant 2015 “Perception, Performativity and Cognitive Sciences” (Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca – Grant number: 2015TM24JS - SH4).

K.H. was further supported by a grant dedicated to the “PLAYTrack” project (LEGO Foundation).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Scienze della Comunicazione e dello SpettacoloUniversità Cattolica del Sacro CuoreMilanItaly
  2. 2.Interacting Minds CentreAarhus UniversitetAarhus CDenmark

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