Tel Aviv University (TAU) researchers find that our perceptions of time can be manipulated to increase profits and keep customers happy.

In a new study recently published in the journal NeuroQuantology, Prof. Dan Zakay of TAU’s Department of Psychology explains that our ideas of “time” are highly subjective and can depend on a stimulus – or the lack of one – in our environment.

“Billions of dollars are at stake when customers are waiting, be it on the phone, at an Internet e-commerce site, or in a department store,” he says. “If people feel they’re waiting too long, they’ll hang up or walk away and spend their money elsewhere.”

Zakay found that people who had something to watch while they waited, as opposed to those who waited the same length of time with no distractions, reported that they had at least a 50 percent shorter wait.

Zakay’s models can be used to manipulate people’s perceptions so they feel they’re waiting a shorter period of time.

“Essentially people want to feel that their time is valuable and that they’re not wasting it in line,” Zakay concludes. “When lines are designed well and waiting procedures are more enjoyable, the subjective waiting duration is decreased significantly,” turning a long wait into a short one in the eyes of the customer.