Background: Task duration is a fundamental aspect of exercise, but little is known about how completed bouts of physical activity are perceived. Consequently, the purpose of the five experiments conducted for this investigation was to examine the effects of engaging in physical tasks on retrospective duration estimates with college student participants. Methods: Across the five experiments, participants were 113 college students (82 women, 31 men). In Experiments 1 and 2, participants provided duration estimates of a period spent engaging in physical activity or rest. In Experiments 3, 4, and 5, participants provided duration estimates of periods spent engaged in physical tasks of high intensity and low intensity. Results: In Experiments 1, 2, and 3, participants engaged in physical activity tended to perceive durations as shorter than participants at rest. When completing less familiar tasks (Experiments 4 and 5), however, participants recalled a high intensity bout of physical activity as lasting longer than a low intensity bout of physical activity of comparable duration. Cohen’s d
values for physical activity effects on duration estimates ranged from 0.40 to 1.60. Conclusion: The findings, which partially support a contextual-change interpretation, suggest that factors, such as perceived exertion and task familiarity, affect retrospective duration estimates.
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