Over the weekend, I took the 3 hour trip back home to visit my friends and family at my high school’s homecoming football game. On Sunday when I was returning back to State College, it seemed as if time was flying and I got back here so much quicker than it took to go home the first time. This got me thinking about all the other time’s I’ve traveled some place, and every time, it seems to go quicker on the way home. Why does this happen?
A study was done Ryosuke Ozawa of the Dynamic Brain Network Laboratory at the Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences at Osaka University that tested exactly this question. Ozawa tested 20 healthy men (aged 20-30) on 3 different movies. Movie 1 was walking from point A to B, movie 2 was walking from point B to A and the final movie was walking from C to D. Each movie was approximately the same distance and time. The experimental groups were asked to watch the videos and say when it felt like 3 minutes went by. They were also asked to take off their watches and to not count. Half the group watched videos 1 and 2(round trip condition), the other half watched 2 and 3 (non round trip condition). At the end, the participants were asked which movie took longer. Ozawa concluded that ” our two methods of time estimation suggest that the return trip effect does not affect the timing mechanism itself, but rather our feeling of time postdictively.”
Another three studies were done by Niels van de Ven, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands also testing the return trip effect. His first study tested the return trip effect of a bus trip which was the field study. Here, 57 females said that the trip on the way home was shorter. Ven examined to see if recognizing different waypoints along the way determined the effect and concluded that recolonization has nothing to do with the passage of time. His first study did conclude that the more the participants thought that the initial trip would have taken longer, the more they felt the return trip took less time.
Ven’s second study was the field experiment that tested a bicycle trip with 93 students and an unknown route. They were randomly assigned into groups of 5-10 people and had to travel on two different routes both equaling the same time and distance. A control group went out first traveling the first route and then the second. At the end of each they estimated how long each took, saying that they were both roughly 42 minutes. When the experimental group went out doing both at once, they stated that the route on the way back was the shorter route. This is agreeing with the alternative hypothesis.
The third and final study is the controlled lab experiment and is similar to Ozawa’s experiment. Participants watched a video of someone bicycling from her home to someone else’s and then back home again, each equaling the same distance and time. 139 participants watched the video and were asked how long the initial and the return trip had taken. Ven concluded that the participants agreed with his hypothesis.
All three of Ven’s studies showed the effect of the return trip effect. The effect is not due to familiarity of places, but rather the expectations of the trip.
It is possible that the return trip effect is a cause chance, but it is highly unlikely. It is also possible that an unknown factor is effecting our perception of time to the distance traveled.