Do you take the fastest way home? Are you sure? Really?
Gotthard Alte Passstrasse, Wikimedia Commons
I think I take the fastest route to work. I avoid traffic and stoplights, take long straight sections, and make right turns when ever possible. However, I always end up taking a completely different path home. I can’t quite say why I do this, but both seem the quickest possible way to and from work. If one route wins the morning commute, why don’t I follow the same path in reverse every evening?
In a classic study of traversal distance perception, people who walked a path with seven turns rated the path length longer than those who walked a path with only two turns (Sadalla & Magel, 1980). In reality these paths were exactly the same length.
Why is this? Maybe memory biases distance perception. A path with more turns requires storing more information in memory. More information stored for a path may lead to longer distance judgements. Alternatively, effort may play the key role here. Turns require effort, so straight paths with less turns appear shorter. Regardless of which theory is correct, less turns make a path seem shorter.
Thinking back, my morning route into work minimizes turns. My path home also has long straight segments and few turns. A one-way street and my dislike of left turns means these two paths don’t overlap. Maybe I really do take the shortest possible paths, but most likely at least one of my paths isn’t the fastest. It wins because my distance perception is biased.
I’m going to time my routes and report back with what I find.
Do you take the shortest path to and from work? Comment below if you think you’re biased or if you’ve timed your path and know the truth!
Sadalla, E., & Magel, S. (1980). The Perception of Traversed Distance Environment and Behavior, 12 (1), 65-79 DOI: 10.1177/0013916580121005