Why the return trip seems shorter

Aug. 25, 2011 at 6:56 PM
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TILBURG, Netherlands, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- People tend to estimate their vacation destination trip as longer than it is, a faulty estimate that makes the return trip seem shorter, Dutch researchers say.

Niels van de Ven of Tilburg University in the Netherlands and colleagues say it seems that many people find that, when taking a trip, the way back seems shorter.

Their study, published online in the Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, suggests that this effect is caused by the different expectations people have, rather than being more familiar with the route on a return journey.

"People often underestimate how long the outward journey takes and this is therefore experienced as longer (than it is)," van de Ven, says in a statement.

"Based on that feeling, the traveler expects the return journey to be long as well, and this then turns out to be shorter than expected."

The researchers say the three short studies involved 350 people, who took a trip by bus, by bicycle or watched a video of a person taking a bicycle ride.

When the duration estimates were compared, respondents thought the return journey on average went by 22 percent faster than the outward journey.

The study finds the return trip effect was largest for participants who reported the initial trip felt disappointingly long, and when one group of participants was told the upcoming trip would seem long, the return trip effect disappeared.

Ironically, telling participants the upcoming trip was going to be very long led them to experience the trip as taking less time, the researchers say.

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