the sky floor

Why Cars Seem Faster Than Airplanes

April 21, 2021

Last week my six-year-old asked me if cars go faster than planes. If you know what speed each machine is capable of, the answer is obvious. But it isn’t to a child because they appear to travel at different rates. 

She looks up all the time and sees planes lumbering through the vast blue fields of clouds in the sky – or at least that is how it appears. Conversely, when I jam the acceleration to enter the highway, it feels much faster to her. (I assure you it is not too speedy, I love my RX400, but it is no Tesla Model S!)

This effect is called Motion Parallax. Essentially an object’s speed is perceived based on how quickly it moves through the frame or our field of vision. 

An airplane is so high that it trods along in our field of view. A car zips by us and is out of sight before we know it. 

Motion Parallax works whether you are inside or outside the effect. When you are far from the ground in a plane, the high speed is nearly undetectable, but objects pass by quickly in a car, increasing the feeling of speed. 

Our brains can even be tricked by simply changing the field of view on a camera, as seen here. This version of the effect makes us feel like we are going slower in bigger, taller vehicles like a bus. 

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Neat Science Lesson – What’s the Point

Your perception isn’t always accurate. Neither is your client’s or customer’s judgments – a wide range of inputs factors into our brains output. 

Make yourself aware of the Motion Parallax in your industry. Evaluate what your clients perceive and use the information to your advantage. Not in a nefarious way – to help them and you. 

If you are selling an airplane, but potential customers only ever look at it from the ground, they may not know how fast it is. Figure out how to make the reality perceptible.

Be aware of how perception may not match reality in your business and adjust accordingly.