Insight of the Week
July 7, 2023

Durations Feels Sooner Than Calendar Dates

A new study found that durations (e.g., 5 days) feel sooner than equivalent calendar dates (e.g., July 12).

"in 5 days" feels closer than an equivalent date of "July 15"


Suppose that today is July 7.

If something is due in 5 days, you could frame this deadline in different ways:

  • Duration: "Due in 5 days."
  • Date: "Due by July 12."

In a recent study, college students were more likely to begin a writing assignment when they were given a duration (Jeong, Hwang, & Suk, 2023). It also happened with other contexts (e.g., coupons) and longer durations (e.g., 120 days).

Why? Because we conceptualize time in two ways:

  • Moving Observer: We move toward the future.
  • Moving Time: The future moves toward us.

Durations are motivating because they activate Moving Time:

"5 days" moving toward a person, whereas the same person is moving toward "July 12"

We conceptualize "July 12" as stationary, but we conceptualize "5 days" as if it were approaching us. And whenever something is moving toward us, we feel anxious and act sooner (Xu, Jia, & Chen, 2023).

Need people to act before July 12? Mention the remaining number of days, and frame this deadline with approaching motion.

Email that says "...ends in 5 days on July 15" and "as the deadline approaches..."

Other New Studies

  • Who Becomes an Entrepreneur? - Entrepreneurs seem patient, considering they invest time and money for future benefits. But new research suggests the opposite. People are more likely to become entrepreneurs if they discount future time investments (e.g., prefer to save 1 hour now rather than 2 hours later). Why? Because entrepreneurs conceptualize time as "Moving Observer." They imagine themselves moving through time, so the future seems farther away (Gutierrez, Sloof, & Crilly, 2023).
  • Reviews With Matching Photos Are More Helpful - Review photos can be matching (e.g., they illustrate the text) or additive (e.g., they give new information). Based on 7.4 million reviews from Yelp, customers prefer matching photos because they ease readability (Ceylan, Diehl, & Proserpio, 2023).
  • Foods with Short Names Seem Healthier - Moka seems healthier than Mokanupo. Subconsciously, a smaller name feels like it will contain fewer ingredients with smaller portion sizes. It just feels lighter (Motoki & Pathak, 2023).