The Psychological Value of Time

The Psychological Value of Time


Mirjam Galetzka, University of Twente, Ad Pruyn, University of Twente, Mark Van Hagen; Martijn Vos; Brit Moritz; Floor Gostelie, NS Netherlands Railways


This paper presents an overview of studies that explore the impact of digital signage, environmental design and the use of background music on time perception and customer experience, thus exploring the psychological value of time.


The value of time is an important aspect for passengers who undertake a train journey. In transport economics the value of time usually refers to the costs of the time a passenger spends on the journey, and utility is derived from the amount that a passenger is willing to pay in order to save time. From this point of view, it is generally in the interest of passengers to opt for the easiest -that is most convenient- quick, cheap and effortless route. For many railway passengers prevailing goals are to spend time as efficiently as possible. Especially for ‘must passengers’ the train journey typically has an obligatory character and they tend to be task oriented toward attainment of functional goals during their journey. However, the time spent travelling to a destination can be useful and enjoyable as well. Some passengers (i.e. the so-called ‘lust passengers’) may be more attuned to enjoying the trip and be more receptive to distraction from time. This, of course, also produces utility, and asks for a more psychological perspective on the value of time.
Research and investments in the railway sector have traditionally been aimed at shortening the train journey and optimizing the objective traveling time. Less attention is paid to the subjective appraisal of time among passengers, i.e. how the time is experienced during their stay at the station and in the train. Evidence has shown that taking people’s mind of time can positively contribute to both the customer experience and the estimation of time. It would therefore be beneficial to make sure that the train journey is designed to take people’s mind of the time and enable them to spend their time in a functional or enjoyable way.
In this paper we present an overview of studies that explore the impact of digital signage (in train and at the platform), environmental design (color and lighting) and the use of background music (music tempo and music genre in train and at the platform) on time perception (i.e. time estimation, affective and cognitive appraisal of time) and customer experience under different journey conditions. These varying conditions include varying crowding and cleanliness levels in the train and at the platform and the presence of different type of passengers (lust and must passengers). The studies demonstrated that time perceptions and customer experience can be influenced but that the effects of digital signage, environmental design and background music depend on varying journey characteristics. When distractions had low levels of intensity (i.c. cool colors, dimmed lighting, slow tempo music) one’s attention was not consciously distracted from time. However, showing entertaining or informative content on digital screens, hearing music in a clean environment, using dimmed lighting under low crowding conditions or applying colored lighting for lust passengers afforded distraction from time and higher pleasure levels among railway passengers.
Overall, the findings shed light on the role of distraction under various journey conditions, and its impact on the customer experience and the appraisal of time by railway passengers. Further research, both in field and laboratory settings, is needed to investigate the impact of distraction as a means to re-direct the goal oriented focus on time, and make people enjoy their train journey, thus enhancing the psychological value of time.


Association for European Transport