How Does Virtual Reality Affect Your Sense Of Time?

Time is a weird thing.

Think back, when you were a child you probably had no concept of the passing of time. Or at least you didn’t recognise it. You have it no credence. It just ‘was’. An endless string of activities – sleep, wake, school, lessons, play, holidays, swimming. You name it.

As you get older you recognise the flow, but still it doesn’t mean much.

Then all of a sudden you’re forty years old. Now it means something. And with each passing year from then on time seems to go quicker and quicker. Until it’s Christmas followed by Christmas. Holiday by holiday. It all goes so fast.

So what causes that? Is it a heightened perception of the world around you? Or just something that happens as you get older, some trick the brain plays for an unknown reason?

It’s clear that the brain is recognising events in the real world. Somehow it has a marker that tells you time is passing – most likely by its ability to link the passing of time via external world clues, even though last years memories sometimes feel like they could be yesterday. The sun rising, a day beginning, lunch, kids home from school, dinner, bed.

So what might happen if we remove those normal day to day clues? Could it distort our perception of the passing of the hours? Either for the period while those clues are removed, or even with longer lasting effects?

As the general use of virtual reality grows, we should see some answers to these questions……


How Does Time Pass In Virtual Reality?

There have been reports of some early trialists spending up to 12 hours wearing a headset – mainly to prove there are no side effects. These early experiments have shown that long duration use has no bad effects.

But most VR experiences are only a few minutes in duration, so it’s hard to gauge how time has seemed to pass for the wearers.

The theory is though that wearing a headset for long periods can affect your perception of how much time has passed. This is mainly due to your suspension of awareness of the outside world. It’s a theory that’s gained some support, with some users stating that it felt as if an hour had passed, yet they’d only spent 15 minutes in a VR environment.

This all makes sense of course.

The whole idea of virtual reality is to get the greatest immersion level into an alternative reality, so you kind of want it to feel different from the real world. The visual clues you receive Рalong with those from any experience-enhancing accessories Рobviously make up the bulk of that experience, but you could argue that perception of time is another human sense. One that equally deserves its place in the list of senses you want to engage in VR.

It’s interesting that the sense of time passing in VR manifests itself in an ‘absence of time’ way, rather than an ‘I can feel time passing’ way.

Clearly this is a subject that doesn’t lend itself to subjective views, and hopefully more will be learned as the volumes of headsets in circulation grow.