Overweight people perceive distances to be further than they actually are

By Lindsay de Freitas
27 February 2016

A new study has found that if you're overweight, that short run around the block is going to seem much further than it really is.

US Psychologist Dr Jessica Witt and her team recruited a random sampling of 66 shoppers at US retailer Walmart.

They placed a cone 25m from each of them and asked the respondents to guess the distance between themselves and the cone.

Their results showed participants' body shape influenced their perception of the distance.

According to the findings people who weighed roughly 60kg judged the cone to be 15m away, while those who weighed roughly 150kg thought it was 30m away.

According to Witt, obese people perceive distances to be at least 10% further than those with an average weight.

The reason for this is that although we all see the same things, we don’t all perceive them in the same way.

“You’re not seeing the world as it is -- you’re seeing the world in terms of your ability to act,” explains Dr Witt. “If you find yourself out hiking with a heavy backpack, hills are going to look steeper, distances are going to look farther, gaps across a river are going to look longer,” elaborated the psychologist.

She also explained that although the warped perception may seem selective, “it cannot be controlled - you can’t will yourself to see that target as closer or that hill as less steep.”

According to scientists, the strange phenomenon is a survival mechanism inherited from our distant past.

This ancient instinct helps us evaluate situations (and our ability to overcome them) without having to think about them. But the findings may also work against efforts to persuade the overweight to be more active.

“We think that these perceptual biases can create a vicious cycle for people with obesity where they see the world as impossible to navigate.”

Sources: telegraph.co.uk, guardian.com, irishexaminer.com

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