Progress Bars use Optical Illusions to Appear Faster

I’d rather not think about how many hours I’ve spent staring at progress bars in my life. They’re a lot faster than the used to be because of better processors and internet connections, but we still have to wait patiently while transferring large files, downloading video games on Steam, or streaming videos online.

Have you ever wondered why modern progress bars have become so much more animated than they were in the “old days”? Part of it might be that user interfaces are more aesthetically pleasing than they used to be, but the biggest reason is because they want to deceive you.

That’s right, your harmless little progress bar is lying to you.

Studies have shown that the animations used in progress bars can make them seem to go up to 11% faster, as shown in the New Scientist video below. Using tricks like ripples and pulses of light are a simple way to make you feel like things are happening quicker than they really are.

The next time you’re waiting for your computer to transfer a large file to your USB flash drive, I expect you to point an accusing finger and yell “LIES!”.

Image courtesy: D’Arcy Norman
  • Great article. I had a huge grin on my face and was knowingly nodding while I read it. Watching progress bars on virus and malware scanners used to be one of my favorite pastimes.

  • I knew it.

  • CornerPocket

    Even funnier are the web page indicators which are often just an animated gif and telling you absolutely nothing about what the server is doing.  The server could have dumped your request an hour ago and that little thing will still be cranking away.

  • Phoenix Wright


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  • sam

    progress bars themselves are fake, they are not an accurate representation of how fast something is really happening

  • And all this time, I’d assumed that they were to prove the install program hadn’t hung…..