Getting ready for a holiday road trip? Then you might be wondering this: how come road trips seem to go slower on the way there and faster on the way back? That's what a viewer asked us. And David Schechter went looking for the answer.
My name is Jay Hoffman and my question is, "When you're on a road trip, why does it take longer to get there then it does to get home? Why that's important to me is I travel a lot by car and after I get home from my trip, I'm always asking myself that questions."
Ever wonder that? Scientists have actually researched this and even given this phenomenon a name. It's called the Return Trip Effect.
There are three theories out there about this:
The first comes from a 2015 study out of Japan. It focused on memory. It found that people are not bad a judging how long the trip home is. What they're bad at is remembering how long the trip home took actually took. But that study had a very small number of participants and doesn't explore why people would be bad at remembering. So, that explanation is inconclusive.
The more conclusive study is out of the Netherlands, in 2011. You can find it in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. Because we know you subscribe. This study used a larger sample of people to look at two possibilities. The first is familiarity meaning, you've already driven the route once, so it's more familiar. And things that are routine to us seem like they fly by faster.
The authors of this study ruled out the idea of familiarity by taking the return trip and moving it to a different route, but one still took the same amount of time. What happened? Participants still found the return home felt faster.
The final theory is about expectations. The idea is that we have a way of under-estimating how long it will take to get there. Meaning, we expect the trip there will be faster than it turns out to be. That makes it feel long.
The authors concluded the people on their way home, "likely lengthened their expectations for the return trip. In comparison with this longer expected duration, the return trip felt short."
So, the Return Trip Effect is likely caused by under-estimating how long it will take to get there and over-estimating how long it will take to get back.