Time flies when you're having fun, but minutes can feel like hours in a dentist's waiting room. Our ideas of “time” are highly subjective and can depend on a stimulus — or the lack of one — in our environment.
Tel Aviv University researchers find time can be manipulated to increase profits and keep customers happy.Over the years, Prof. Zakay has been measuring the difference between objective and subjective time through a battery of various cognitive experiments. There is a consistent difference in how we “feel” time, he says, and some of this basic understanding of the cognitive processes that measure time may prove to be a boon to business sales.
For his study, Prof. Zakay asked his subjects to estimate and subjectively describe intervals of time. In the first group, 50 participants were placed in a waiting room with nothing to do, while in another participants were allowed to watch cartoons and TV as they waited the same amount of time. Those in the second group reported they had a much shorter wait ― at least 50% less ― than those who had nothing to do.
Some methods seem obvious. At amusement parks, lines for rides and activities should never be straight; they should always be fragmented into different segments. The idea is to divide the line so that no one can see the whole length of the line, since seeing a long waiting queue is frustrating compared to seeing a short waiting segment. Of course in each segment other methods for distracting attention from time should be used, says Prof. Zakay: characters like Mickey Mouse are important for distracting children with a low threshold for boredom. The same techniques can be leveraged for more traditional businesses. “There are very simple practices that can measurably boost sales,” says Prof. Zakay. “For example, telling customers how long they can expect to wait always helps to reduce the feeling of wait time. Giving them coffee or interesting things to do can retain their loyalty as well.”