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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Virtual reality's effect on prospective time estimation is inconsistent and sensitive to environment size Mullen, Grayson


Despite anecdotal reports that time flies in virtual reality (VR), evidence for this effect has been scarce. Only one prior study (Mullen and Davidenko, 2021) reported that people prospectively underestimated time in VR relative to a matched non-VR condition. Participants were instructed to play a video game either in VR or on a conventional monitor (CM) for 5 minutes without access to a clock. The VR group produced significantly longer intervals, suggesting that they underestimated time. The present study attempts to replicate this finding and identify factors within VR that might mediate its effect on time estimation. VR was found to be associated with overestimation of time in Experiment 1 and had no significant effect on time estimation in Experiment 2, contrary to the VR-induced underestimation effect reported by Mullen and Davidenko (2021). VR appears not to have a general and reliable impact on time estimation. However, the VR group in Experiment 2 produced significantly longer intervals than the VR group in Experiment 1, while there was no corresponding difference in CM intervals. This difference may be related to changes in virtual camera size, which inversely determines the apparent scale of the VR environment. Experiment 3 tested this interpretation by assigning participants to perform an interval production task in a VR environment with a small, medium, or large virtual camera. Participants tended to underestimate time when the virtual environment appeared bigger (in smaller camera size conditions), and overestimate time when it appeared smaller (in larger camera size conditions). This points to a potential mechanism by which people may tend to underestimate time in more expansive VR environments, even though the effect has not been reliably observed in controlled experiments. The kind of VR experience that can be easily matched for content with a non-VR display (that is, a confined environment that does not encourage 360° exploration) may not be the kind that can elicit a strong time underestimation effect.

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