Virtual reality messes with time.

Science Daily shares UC Santa Cruz research into the strange psychological effects of virtual reality, which literally lets your brain lose track of time in a way no other experience does:

Grayson Mullen, who was a cognitive science undergraduate at the time, worked with Psychology Professor Nicolas Davidenko to design an experiment that tested how virtual reality’s effects on a game player’s sense of time differ from those of conventional monitors. The results are now published in the journal Timing & Time Perception.

Mullen designed a maze game that could be played in both virtual reality and conventional formats, then the research team recruited 41 UC Santa Cruz undergraduate students to test the game. Participants played in both formats, with researchers randomizing which version of the game each student started with. Both versions were essentially the same, but the mazes in each varied slightly so that there was no repetition between formats.

Participants were asked to stop playing the game whenever they felt like five minutes had passed. Since there were no clocks available, each person had to make this estimate based on their own perception of the passage of time.

The study found that participants who played the virtual reality version of the game first played for an average of 72.6 seconds longer before feeling that five minutes had passed than students who started on a conventional monitor. In other words, students played for 28.5 percent more time than they realized in virtual reality, compared to conventional formats.

Time compression could be useful in some situations — like enduring an unpleasant medical treatment or passing the time on a long flight — but in other circumstances, it could have harmful consequences.

“As virtual reality headsets get more comfortable to wear for longer periods of time, and as more immersive games are made for this format, I think it would be good to avoid having it become like a virtual casino, where you end up playing more because you don’t realize how much time you’re spending,” Mullen said.