The perception of time is slowed in response to exercise, an effect not further compounded by competitors: behavioral implications for exercise and health

Andrew Mark Edwards*, Stein Gerrit Paul Menting, Marije Titia Elferink-Gemser, Florentina Johanna Hettinga

*Corresponding author for this work

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IntroductionThe theory of relativity postulates that time is relative to context and exercise seems such a situation. The purpose of this study was to examine whether situational factors such as perceived exertion and the introduction of an opponent influence competitors’ perception of time.
MethodsThirty-three recreationally active adults (F = 16; M = 17) performed three standardized 4-km cycling trials in a randomized order. Velotron 3D software was used to create a visual, virtual environment representing (1) a solo time trial (FAM and SO), (2) a time trial with a passive opponent avatar (PO), and (3) a time trial with an opponent avatar and participant instruction to actively finish the trial before the opponent (AO). Participants were asked to estimate a 30-s time period using a standardized protocol for reproducibility before exercise at 500 m, 1500 m, 2500 m, and post exercise. Rate of perceived exertion (RPE) was measured throughout the trials.
ResultsExercise trials revealed that time was perceived to run “slow” compared to chronological time during exercise compared to resting and post-exercise measurements (p < 0.001). There was no difference between exercise conditions (SO, PO, and AO) or time points (500 m, 1500 m, and 2500 m). RPE increased throughout the trials.
ConclusionThe results of this study demonstrate for the first time that exercise both with and without the influence of opponents influences time perception. This finding has important implications for healthy exercise choices and also for optimal performance. Independent of RPE, time was perceived to move slower during exercise, underpinning inaccurate pacing and decision-making across physical activities.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3471
Number of pages8
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number4
Early online date1 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024

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