011 - Time Perception and Dilation in VR

Show notes

For those of you joining us for the first time, ResearchVR is a weekly podcast dedicated to breaking down years of Virtual Reality Research into a digestible form, and discussing the current economic trends of the industry around the world. In today’s episode:

We tackle Time Perception and Time Dilation. We discuss the the anecdotal evidence that everyone keeps hearing about, and dig deep into the research done on how we keep track of time.


  1. Groundwork

    1. Terminology

      1. Time

        1. Perceived Time

          1. Subjective time
        2. Real Time

          1. Absolute time
      2. Time dilation vs Time Perception

    2. Neuroanatomy

      1. internal clock used to time durations in the seconds-to-minutes range appears linked to dopamine (DA) function in the basal ganglia, while temporal memory and attentional mechanisms appear linked to acetylcholine (ACh) function in the frontal cortex. These two systems are connected by frontal-striatal loops, thus allowing for the completion of the timing sequences involved in duration discrimination
      2. Place cells, Grid Cells http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26539893 https://www.quantamagazine.org/20160126-how-the-brain-maps-time/
  2. Presenting the concept

    1. Overwhelming anecdotal evidence that modern VR is interfering with time perception
    2. A lot of users report that they:
      1. Felt like they were only few minutes in VR
      2. While in fact they were there far longer
      3. subjectively < (shorter) < in reality
  3. Time Perception

    1. Aspects of time <

      1. Simultaneity = two auditory stimuli occur less than about 2–3 ms (longer for visual stimuli)
      2. Successiveness = same but on longer durations
      3. temporal order =  interstimulus interval is about 20–30 ms
      4. duration judgments

        1. Experienced (prospective paradigm) - what duration is required

          1. Attentional-gate model - attention to time mediates the flow of pulses from a pacemaker to an accumulator
          2. Lengthen (underestimation) when cognitive load increases
        2. Remembered (retrospective paradigm) - no prior knowledge

          1. Memory
          2. lengthen(underestimation) as contextual changes increase (mood, changes in environment, affective experiences, etc)
          3. Predictable and regular tempo increase duration judgment (Boltz 1998)
          4. Positive time-order effect
            1. the first of two equal durations seems longer in retrospect
    2. Circadian system

      1. Function: keep in sync with 24h cycle
      2. Controls: digestion, certain hormones, body temp, and more
        1. Also: sleep-wake cycle
    3. Vierordt's Law (Block & Gruber, 2014), 1868

      1. from seconds to years, the same law holds: Judgments of relatively shortintervals are lengthened (overestimated), and judgments of relatively longintervals are shortened (underestimated).
  4. Modulating time perception

    1. Prospective duration

      1. (a) cognitive load type (response demands, attentional demands, processing difficulty, and so on),

        1. Cognitive Load - the more involved the longer the time

          1. Overloading your attention. More things you have to do, the more time dilation occurs
        2. Music

          1. Tonality - happy = longer
          2. Tempo

          3. Familiarity = longer time perception

        3. Reference cues

          1. Zeitgeber

            1. Natural

              • sun
            2. Artificial

              • clock
            3. Social

              • Social interactions
      2. Chemotherapy Patients: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2121303/ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12855087

      3. (c) judgment immediacy (i.e., immediate judgments show the larger effect size) - how much after experience do you need to judge time

      4. Absorption / immersion = not paying attention to time
    2. Retrospective duration

      1. Environment
      2. Mood
      3. Contextual elements at the start of a new experience (e.x participating in an experiment)
      4. Segmentation of the duration (increased contextual changes)
  5. Punchline: how to apply in VR

    1. Consider Time Dilation as part of VR UX Design

      1. Entertainment - yes!

        1. Play longer, like in casino
        2. Pass time on boring trips faster (e.x. Train rides)
      2. Serious - yes?

        1. Shorten subjective duration of "therapies"
        2. Encourage longer training / therapy sessions

References Annotated Link Dump: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1TK22T4JSishyPOr7iez4ujDDIXE6RGM1VSX9RpRnM7Q/edit?usp=sharing

Thanks everyone for tuning in to another episode of ResearchVR. Hope you enjoyed listening to it and learned something new.
- Next episode: Geoffrey Skow, Fishbowl VR

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