Virtual reality technology messes with your perception of time

Virtual Reality technology - Person playing VR Game

New research shows that a VR user’s sense of time is affected while playing games in this format.

Research conducted by UC Santa Cruz researchers has determined that virtual reality technology users suffer a notably larger distortion to their perception of time than users of traditional screens.

The concept behind the study was raised by then cognitive science undergraduate Grayson Mullen.

Mullen experienced the distortion himself while using virtual reality technology and it caught his interest. Though he already knew that existing research showed that video games can cause players to lose track of the passage of time, the distortion he personally experienced was substantial while using virtual reality technology when compared to playing at a traditional screen.

He sought the support of UC Santa Cruz Psychology Professor Nicolas Davidenko and designed an experiment to measure the impact. The results of the study were published in the Timing & Time Perception journal.

The research examined the time perception impact among virtual reality technology users.

The study also sought to determine how different the impact on time perception was on VR users when compared to that of conventional monitors. To find out, he designed a maze game that could be played in both VR and conventional monitor formats. From there, the research team under Mullen recruited 41 undergraduate students from UC Santa Cruz to test the game.

The study participants played both formats – on the conventional screens and in VR – while the researchers randomized the first format each student would play. In terms of the game experience, both versions were essentially identical, though the mazes themselves differed slightly so that the players wouldn’t be able to repeat the same paths when switching from one format to the other.

The participants were asked to stop playing the game whenever they felt that they’d been playing for five minutes. Clocks were not provided, so the players were required to use their own sense of time to determine when five minutes had elapsed.

A time-keeping feature was integrated into the game without being visible to the players. This allowed the researchers to record exactly how much time had passed as each player determined that five minutes had elapsed. What they found was that there was a substantial gap between reality and the perception of time when using Virtual Reality technology - Person playing VR Gamevirtual reality technology. Players stopped an average of 72.6 seconds after 5 minutes had actually elapsed, meaning that they played 28.5 percent longer than requested, based on their perception of the passage of time.

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