Why the return trip often seems to take less time

I’ve always wondered why the outward journey seems longer than the return trip, especially if it’s by road. My mother explained that this is because of our new-found familiarity with the route or road.

I found the answer a few days ago – a new study by Prof Niels van de Ven (Tilburg University, Holland), Leon van Rijswijk and Michael Roy concluded that it’s due to “different expectations.”

Lead researcher van de Ven said:

People often underestimate how long the outward journey takes and this is therefore experienced as long. Based on that feeling, the traveller expects the return journey to be long as well, and this then turns out to be shorter than expected. An over-optimistic prior estimation of the journey time leads to the illusion of the return journey being shorter.

They came to the conclusion after doing 3 studies involving 350 people.

The full text of the research is published in the journal Springer’s Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

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