bruderAt Oculus Connect 2015, SVVR’s Karl Krantz told me that he accidentally spent 12 straight hours in VR and only thought that 3 hours had passed. I then started hearing a lot more time dilation stories from Owlchemy Labs’ Alex Schwartz and Devin Reimer as well as Fantastic Contraption’s Sarah Northway. These time perception underestimation anecdotes were both fascinating and really scary, and they found that some of the likely causes were achieving the ‘flow state’, having a deep sense of presence, and even the sense that ‘time flies when you’re having fun.’


University of Hamburg’s Dr. Gerd Bruder has done some research into the issue of time perception in virtual environments, and he’s discovered some fascinating results that he presented at the IEEE VR conference in March. He found that there are environmental cues such as the movement of the sun that can be artificially manipulated in VR, and that this will change subject’s perception of time. These environmental time estimation cues are called ‘zeitgebers’, and they are one of the many factors that impact our time perception. Some other correlating factors are cognitive load, the level of ‘flow’ that a VR experience generates.

I had a chance to catch up with Gerd at the IEEE VR where he shared some of the other insights and results into why we’re vastly underestimating our time that we’re spending in VR.

Here’s the paper by Christian Schatzschneider, Gerd Bruder, & Frank Steinicke titled
Who turned the clock? Effects of Manipulated Zeitgebers, Cognitive Load and Immersion on Time Estimation. This research starts to explain some the factors that directly impact time dilation, but there is still a lot that we don’t know about it yet. What this research shows is that there are a lot of zeitgebers cues that can be manipulated and studied within VR environments.

For more information on this topic, then be sure to check out ResearchVR’s podcast on “Time Perception and Dilation in VR.”

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  • fwd

    It would be interesting to reproduce the opposite of this : Time squeezing in VR, where you think you spent 24h in VR when you actually spent 12h. Just to test if there would be a way to cheat for a better brain efficiency.

    • RodioR

      Vierordt’s Law (Block & Gruber, 2014), 1868

      from seconds to years, the same law holds:

      Judgments of relatively short intervals are lengthened (overestimated), and judgments of relatively long intervals are shortened (underestimated).

      after doing a research on Time Dilation for our podcast (ResearchVR) on this topic, I must admit… The field of time perception studies is a muddy, chaotic place, full of inconsistencies. Time to change with a full control of environment in VR!

  • Petr Legkov

    thx for plugging researchVR ;) keep the amazing work mr. Kent !!! love your voices of vr podcast!!! and a great article!