Why is the return trip shorter than the return trip?

If every time you go on vacation you have the feeling that the outward journey is always longer than the return, You’re not alone. People tend to perceive the return trip as if it is a little shorter than the outward journey, even though the distances traveled are objectively the same. This seems to be indicated, at least, by some research.

“The round trip effect”: shorter round trips

One of the studies on this topic was carried out in 2011 by a group of Dutch psychologists who started this project when they realized what was going on and decided to study what you might call ‘the effect. travel. The study, carried out by researchers from Tilburg University, they carried out three experiments to verify the extent of this phenomenon and under what conditions it occurs.


In the first of them, 69 people had to make a round trip and a round trip by bus to then score on an 11 point scale along the route of each of these two journeys. Although both routes are equally long, when the outward journey takes longer than expected, people tend to rate the return as if it were shorter.

The second experiment was designed to reveal the effect that whether or not people knew the route taken by the return trip had on the perception of travel time. For this, several group bike trips were planned. in which some people returned by where they had gone and another part of the group returned by another different route but of equal length. However, people in both groups tended to perceive the return trip as shorter.

In the third and final experiment, participants only had to move from where they were, but watch a video in which a person went to a friend’s house and returned, taking exactly 7 minutes for each of these. two trips. Once this was done, the 139 participants were divided into several groups and each was asked to estimate the time they had spent on the outward or return trip.

The conclusions of the three studies

While the appreciation of the passage of time has been adjusted to reality among those responsible for estimating the duration of the round trip (by estimating an average duration of 7 minutes), Those interviewed on the outward journey tend to add several minutes to the actual elapsed time (They gave an average of 9 and a half minutes). Also, oddly enough, this effect disappeared for people who, before watching the video, were told that the trips took a while, as they were more realistic when judging the length of the return trip.

In general, summarizing the results of the study, the researchers found that the people who participated in the experiments they tended to perceive the return trip 22% shorter.

A more recent case

In a more recent study, the results were published in PLOS One, scientists at Kyoto University asked a series of participants to judge how long the round trip took and what they saw on a video recording. In one case, participants would see a round trip along the same path, and in the other case, they would see a round trip along the same path that was shown to people in the first group, but the return would go through a completely different route. . different. however, the times and distances of the three possible routes were exactly the same.

People who saw the round trip by the same route tuvieron the feeling that the return was significantly shorter, While the participants of the group in which the return took place by a route other than the outward journey did not notice any difference in duration.

How is this explained?

It is not known exactly what the return trip effectBut it will probably have to do with how we assess the passage of time in retrospect, that is, after the return journey has already passed. Dutch researchers responsible for carrying out the first experiments believe that this curious phenomenon is linked to the negative appreciation of a too long first trip, which makes the return shorter when it is more adjusted to our expectations.

Another explanation would be that we are more likely to worry more about the passage of time when traveling, Because it is associated with the idea of ​​arriving at a place on time, while the same thing usually does not happen on the way home. In this way, the brain devotes more resources to concentrating on the course of the minutes and seconds to find possible shortcuts and thus achieve certain objectives.

Bibliographical references:

  • Ozawa R, Fujii K and Kouzaki M (2015). The return trip is only shortened postdictively: a psychophysiological study of the effect of the return trip. PLOS One, 10 (6), e0127779
  • Van de Ven, N., Van Rijswijk, L. and Roy, MM (2011). The return trip effect: why the return trip often seems to take less. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18 (5), pages 827-832.

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