The ‘Doll House’ Effect


Since 1976, Alton De Long, prof. of architecture at University of Tennessee, has been investigating the relations between perception of time and space. He created dolls houses at four different scales: 1/24, 1/12, 1/6, and full scale and asked subjects to imagine themselves as a person in the dollhouse and build a narrative behind what they were doing. He asked the subjects to signal when 30 minutes had passed.

De Long found that with a 1:12 scale, the experience of 30 minutes takes only 2.5 minutes in ‘real time’. Basically the brain speeds up in direct proportion to environmental scale. Beyond this ratio, the brain adjusts and this rule doesn’t correlate.

So in a science fiction movie this would mean that future workers stare at a miniature model of their office and reduce their 8 hour working days to 40 minutes, allowing much more time to go to fly their miniature hovercraft to the mini-pub and get drunk on one miniature pint. Excellent!

The Dance of Life, Edward T. Hall (Anchor Books Editions, 1984) p150