If you’re getting ready to tee off from the middle of Hwy 16 at Main Street, what golf club would you pull to reach the middle of Fourth Avenue?
Most people are going to take way too much club because it looks like it’s a fair distance and it’s out of context from the regular golf experience.
My initial thought was a five-iron or more, but for me it’s a pitching wedge because I happen to have Googled the block is only 110 metres from intersection to intersection.
On the other hand, on an unfamiliar golf course, without a marker or range finder, my tendency is to underestimate, take too little club and come up short.
The thing is, humans are poor at estimating the distances between objects. At longer distances, all bets are off because their are so many factors such as geography, landmarks, familiarity etc.
But even at shorter distances, we are not very good at it.
Perhaps this explains why at the entrances to buildings where there are signs that clearly say no smoking within nine metres, you still see people smoking well within that range. Or why people tailgate when we’re all taught to keep a safe distance.
An alternative hypothesis, of course, is that people are just generally inconsiderate.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Neuroscience offers an interesting perspective.
Researchers discovered that people almost always overestimate the distance of an object closer than a few tens of centimetres away, and underestimate it for objects more than a few tens of centimetres away.
I even did my own little test. I know, not very scientific, certainly not a controlled study, too small sample size etc. etc.
Nevertheless. I went outside in the yard and picked a bunch of random objects, estimated then measured. Sure enough, anything within about half a metre was closer than my estimate. Anything beyond about a metre was further than my estimate.
When I went beyond about 50 metres, though, the distance to the beach, the gate to the property, the creek, the neighbour’s house, it was hit and miss whether I was over or under.
This is the interesting part, though, what the researchers found was there is a sweet spot, a small range in which we are very accurate and it is about the length of our arms.
Interestingly, anything two feet away (2/3 metre) in my own little test, I got pretty much bang on, and sure enough, that’s exactly how long my arms are.
The scientists posited our brains are conditioned to accurately judge if something is within arms reach. In fact, by conducting computer simulations that tricked people into thinking their arms were longer than they are, the sweet spot changed.
Of course, you’re all now thinking, what has this got to do with COVID-19 because who among us has written about anything else in the last six weeks?
Well, I had set out to write something non-COVID-related (I really did) but, alas, there is a connection.
When the stores started putting down the two-metre markers, I was surprised how close together they looked.
Turns out my perception of something two metres away is more like three metres.
That’s probably not a bad thing these days.