A team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz has found that people experience the passage of time differently when playing the same game in VR compared to playing on a two-dimensional screen. In a paper published in the journal Timing & Time Perception, research assistant Grayson Mullen and psychology professor Nicolas Davidenko detailed that the experiment participants had a hard time gauging how fast time had passed while playing in VR.

During the experiment, the participants played a simplified maze puzzle. They were divided into two groups. One group played the game in a VR headset, and the other played on a two-dimensional screen in front of them. Then, they were asked to notify the research team when they believed that five minutes had passed without access to a clock. Those playing the game on a screen were pretty good at estimating the passage of time. However, those playing in VR played for an average of 72.6 seconds longer before informing the researchers that five minutes had passed. This is called a time compression effect, which, as its name suggests, is when time goes by faster than we think. The researchers believe this effect could result from the fact that you are less aware of your physical body inside VR.

Zoom Out: This psychological effect may seem insignificant to daily life currently, but it could have some negative consequences in the future. In a not too distant tomorrow where VR headsets become even more ubiquitous, people may find themselves lost in VR, not realizing how much time is passing in the real world. Mullen comments on this saying, “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.”

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