Flashback Friday: Why the return trip always seems shorter.

By Seriously Science | July 4, 2014 6:00 am
Photo: flickr/wtlphotos

Photo: flickr/wtlphotos

We’ve all experienced it: you travel somewhere new, and it seems to take much longer to get there than it does to get home. What causes this so-called “return trip effect”? You might guess that it has something to do with knowing the route–on the way back, you see landmarks that help you better gauge when you’re close to your destination. Well, you’d be wrong! According to this study, the return trip effect (which makes the return trip seem 17-22% shorter on average!) is seen even when people take different routes on the outward and return trips. It turns out that the return trip effect has more to do with expectations: you expect the initial trip to take less time than it does, but on the way back you adjust your expectations to be more realistic. 

The return trip effect: why the return trip often seems to take less time.

“Three studies confirm the existence of the return trip effect: The return trip often seems shorter than the initial trip, even though the distance traveled and the actual time spent traveling are identical. A pretest shows that people indeed experience a return trip effect regularly, and the effect was found on a bus trip (Study 1), a bicycle trip (Study 2), and when participants watched a video of someone else traveling (Study 3). The return trip effect also existed when another, equidistant route was taken on the return trip, showing that it is not familiarity with the route that causes this effect. Rather, it seems that a violation of expectations causes this effect.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: feelings shmeelings, told you so

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