No escape: the science behind the fun

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Escape RoomsFebruary 15, 2019

No escape: the science behind the fun

When you enter an escape room, your senses are immediately heightened by unfamiliarity and in expectation of what is to come.

Escape rooms continue to grow in popularity, driven by new and exciting themes and rave reviews. Such reliance on teamwork has seen thousands of companies use escape rooms as bonding exercises for employees. But it’s not all just fun and games. There is a delicate science that underwrites the escape room experience.

Getting moody

Psychology tells us that the act of moving whilst thinking is good for our outlook, mood and ability to swallow data. When users enter an escape room, they are against the clock. They not only feel the pressure but can see it, usually via a digital countdown clock. Players may frantically move things around, uncover papers, open things, all in search of vital clues.

As such, you’re not only moving quickly, you’re thinking quickly. Art Markman, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, says ‘the faster you’re thinking, the better you feel’. This is due to the release of dopamine. Being under this kind of pressure can make our hearts beat faster, providing an exhilarating experience as your mind feels like it’s making you think faster and faster.

Solving it in time

Of course, the pressure is loaded by time running out and players may feel as though they will lose or be trapped. Working under these time constraints, psychologists believe, puts strain on logic and our ability to rationalise.

It’s scientifically proven time and time again that people are more likely to make mistakes when asked to do something when timed, and an escape room is quite simply an exaggerated version of this. When time begins to run out, we become obsessed with small things that may not have anything to do with the game or the puzzle itself, but because we are so pressurised away from thinking rationally or with conviction, we attempt to give purpose or reason to irrelevant objects. This is all part of the fun, of course, because we know we could be starting to obsess over something that could be irrelevant.

Follow the leader

Perhaps most interesting to psychologists is the way in which groups react when under these unfamiliar conditions. Carola Salvi, a cognitive neuroscientist, says that every game will assign itself a leader. Generally, she says, the leader will be the most extroverted player. They will assume leadership and try to facilitate how the group works out the puzzle.

Interestingly, though, Salvi posits that though the leader will try to facilitate the team’s victory, they will often not present the best ideas. Usually, the best answers are brought to the table by the most introverted or quietest member of the team. One of the reasons behind this is evident in the behavioural changes seen among players in escape rooms. Though a simulation, the feeling of entrapment can encourage usually quiet people to speak out about certain ideas or approaches, which could be why escape rooms appeal to all personality types.

Sense the fear

Another thought-provoking point is the sense of simulated fear. Markman describes how we find it difficult to enjoy the sense of fear in real-life situations, as they often present genuine danger or threat to security. In a simulated environment, however, sensory fear can be experienced synthetically. In effect, the anguish and panic are present but the danger has been removed, which can release dopamine, endorphins and adrenaline for an immersive, lively experience.

Do you have an escape room? If you want to talk to us about arranging suitable insurance to keep your players happy, contact us now on 01524 848506.