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Virtual Reality Distorts Sense of Time

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Posted: Jul 26, 2021 | Reading Time: 1 Minutes


Psychology researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz have found that playing virtual reality games creates an effect known as “time compression,” in which time goes by faster than you think.

Researcher Grayson Mullen and Psychology Professor Nicolas Davidenko designed an experiment that tested how virtual reality's effects on a game player's sense of time differ from those of conventional monitors. Mullen created a maze game that could be played both in virtual reality or as a conventional video game, then recruited 41 UC Santa Cruz undergraduates to play both formats of the game.

The players were asked to stop playing the game once they thought five minutes had passed; no clocks were made available, so the players had to use their own perception of time. The study found that participants who played the VR version of the game played for an average of 72.6 seconds longer before thinking that five minutes had passed, as opposed to the students who started with the conventional video game; when playing in virtual reality, the students played for 28.5 percent more time.

Time compression could be useful in some situations, such as enduring an unpleasant medical treatment or passing the time on a long flight. But in other circumstances, it could have harmful consequences.
"As virtual reality headsets get more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time, and as more immersive games are made for this format, I think it would be good to avoid having it become like a virtual casino, where you end up playing more because you don't realize how much time you're spending," Mullen said.

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