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Why the return journey always seems quicker
Why the return journey always seems quicker (and it's not due to being more familiar with the route)
By Graham Smith
Most people returning from holiday feel that the journey home passes by much quicker than the outward leg.
Even though both distances and journey are usually the same, the way back still seems shorter.
Scientists believe this 'return trip effect' is not caused by being more familiar with the route on a return journey, as previously thought, but because of different expectations.
Lead researcher Niels van de Ven, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, said: 'People often underestimate how long the outward journey takes and this is therefore experienced as long.
'Based on that feeling, the traveller expects the return journey to be long as well, and this then turns out to be shorter than expected.'
An over-optimistic prior estimation of the journey time leads to the illusion of the return journey being shorter, the researchers said.
This conclusion was based on three short studies where 350 people either took a trip by bus, by bicycle or watched a video of a person taking a bicycle ride.
When the duration estimates were compared, respondents thought that the return journey on average went by 22 per cent faster than the outward journey.
The return trip effect was largest for participants who reported that the initial trip felt disappointingly long.
Furthermore, when one group of participants was told that the upcoming trip would seem long, the return trip effect disappeared.
'The findings can help us make new predictions on how people experience the duration of tasks, even those unrelated to travelling'
Ironically, telling participants that the upcoming trip was going to be very long led them to experience the trip as taking less time.
Up until now, a popular explanation for the return journey feeling shorter was that it was better known and so more predictable than the outward journey.
However in their study, the researchers demonstrated that this explanation is unlikely.
Co-author Michael Roy, from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, said: 'The return trip effect also existed when respondents took a different, but equidistant, return route.
'You do not need to recognise a route to experience the effect.'
The researchers now hope to be able to explain more than just this return trip effect.
Professor van de Ven said: 'These findings on the return trip effect can help us make new predictions on how people experience the duration of tasks, even those unrelated to travelling.'
The research is published in the journal Springer's Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.