You’re in a locked room with several other people, and whether they’re family, friends, colleagues, or strangers, you’re going to have to work together to escape. What’s more, you’ve only got 60 minutes to solve the puzzles that stand between you and your freedom.
Suddenly, what isn’t a life-or-death situation seems like it could be, and, with hearts racing, you and the rest of the team get to work.
The escape room experience is becoming increasingly popular. But why would anyone let themselves be locked into a room where they need to solve various puzzles in an hour in order to escape?
Let’s explore the psychology of escape rooms like those at Omescape, London.
What Is An Escape Room?
Escape rooms, such as Omescape’s Kingdom of Cats and Joker’s Asylum, are live-action games at the heart of which is problem-solving. Virtual escape rooms are also available. Rather than being plain old conference rooms, each has a unique theme, props, and imagery. Confinement and time-limits add to the drama that participants experience when trying to solve problems of varying complexity.
Think of it as taking brain gym to the next level.
This is not only in terms of problem-solving, but also in deepening self-knowledge, overcoming psychological challenges, gaining insights into your teammates, and improving teamworking skills. The goal is not merely to solve a few puzzles within a set period of time, but to emerge from rooms such as the Penitentiary or the Biohazard Laboratory as the heroes of the story.
Escape Room Psychology
It can be tempting to reduce escape room psychology to the problem-solving aspects of trying to complete a mission before the time limit is reached. However, there’s a bit more going on. Here’s what happens in your mind and body.
Survival mode activation
Omescape’s live and online escape rooms are designed to be immersive, so rather than watching a story, you’re one of the characters in it. Your confinement in a room full of props and puzzles will start to convince your brain that you really do need to escape, which triggers your body’s survival mode. Part of that is the release of adrenaline, which can make your brain perform faster and help you to maintain sharp focus on the tasks at hand.
The puzzles you need to complete in the escape rooms at Omescape are designed to encourage thinking out the box. They demand creative solutions to questions or problems that first need to be understood.
Availability heuristic stimulation
The time limit and the specially-designed escape rooms and their puzzles work together to stimulate your brain’s use of availability heuristic. The strategy basically is a mental shortcut. In using availability heuristic, your brain is forced to recall information, find solutions, and make decisions quickly.
One of the psychological effects of trying to solve problems in an escape room with a time limit is the ‘hard-easy effect’. Knowing that you have an hour in which to escape by solving all the puzzles puts your mind under pressure, and in that state, it may overcomplicate things. What happens then is that you start looking for abstract or complex solutions when the answer may be simple – right in front of you, as they say.
John Lennon said that life’s what happens after we make plans. The truth of those words is particularly evident when you’re in an escape room. You’ll find that things often don’t go according to plan, which forces you to think on your feet and modify your plans in line with the unfolding situation.
Selective perception is another aspect of escape room psychology. If, after your first couple of clues, you have a sense of where things are headed, your selective perception may prompt you to look for clues that confirm your thoughts. In doing so, you may overlook important clues you don’t expect.
Stress is one of the things you might feel in an escape room. That’s entirely normal, of course. The intensity of the experience triggers your brain to release cortisol, the stress hormone. This can affect your problem-solving skills, as it stimulates impulsive actions, and it can affect your memory during that period.
Storage of information
An escape room experience gives you the chance to flex your information storage muscle. The clues to puzzles and their solutions are not laid out in a neat, orderly fashion. Instead, they’re hidden around the room, and you’ll need to remember each finding because you’ll need to make connections between them at some point.
The Science of Escape Rooms
Whether people participate in the escape room experience in a live action setting or online, they usually find that it’s jolly good fun, and the reason’s not just because it’s something different. The setting, the puzzles, and the activity engage body and mind in all sorts of ways.
Professor of psychology at the University of Texas in Austin, Art Markman explained that the physical activity involved in live game settings triggers your brain to release dopamine. Known as the ‘happy hormone,’ dopamine lifts your mood, and it plays a role in your ability to think, focus, and plan.
According to Prof. Markman, your brain triggers a bigger dopamine boost when you think quick. He said that research conducted in the last decade showed that the faster we think, the better we feel. What’s more, if that happens in a group, the energy becomes ‘contagious’ – it has the ability to speed up the thought processes of everyone involved, and that’s really what puts the participants into a good mood.
Prof. Markman added that there’s more to the escape room experience than dopamine and fast thinking. Rooms with scary themes, such as Omescape’s Penitentiary, allow you to experience some emotions that are difficult to experience safely in real life. For example, in real-life situations that trigger the fear response, you usually can’t savour the associated emotions because you’re faced with something genuinely dangerous or difficult.
Other positive elements in the psychology of escape rooms include a sense of working together to achieve a goal, building relationships, and feeling accomplished and proud of the achievements made in the rooms.
Escape Room Psychology and Business
The virtual and physical escape rooms at Omescape offer more than an hour of dopamine-drenched fun with friends. The psychology behind them can also be beneficial for business.
Prof. Markman explained that some business owners, for example, might decide that they want to improve their business’ processes, but their intention remains unfulfilled, as they don’t translate it into an actionable plan. You can engage with something only when there is an action or task to be performed.
Assistant professor at Georgia State University and social psychologist, Kevin Swartout elaborated on the value of escape rooms for businesses. In a typical company boardroom setting, people might be reluctant or not feel confident enough to share their expertise and opinions. However, when a group of people are locked in a room and need to complete tasks within a time limit, the behaviour of those people changes, and they feel more confident about sharing their opinions.
According to Swartout, one of the reasons for the change in behaviour in an escape room may be because the people feel more confident to speak up when they know there are solutions to specific tasks, and they know that they’re capable of handling those tasks.
Writing for the LSE website, MSc Psychology of Economic Life student Lindsey Depledge explained that her review of the escape room experience revealed that it offers valuable insights for businesses. Of the groups whose performance she reviewed, the best performers were those in which the tasks were divided efficiently, and in which each member understood their own role as well as those of the other members.
The leaders of those teams took a managerial approach by assessing the other members’ capabilities and then appointing them to the tasks for which they most suitable. According to Depledge, that couldn’t have been achieved without effective communication.
After the experience, whether your team escaped from the Kingdom of Cats in Aldgate, the Joker’s Asylum in King’s Cross, or a virtual room via a Zoom call, the members should enjoy several benefits.
For starters, they’ll have had the chance to forge new interpersonal relationships and to do a bit of teambuilding. They may have discovered new skills and strengths, developed confidence in their abilities, and gained a few insights into their own processes as well as those of their colleagues. These experiences also offer budding leaders a chance to develop their managerial skills.
Escape rooms can become a valuable tool for Human Resources, as their positive effects can support HR’s objectives. The insights the offer on decision-making can also help businesses gain a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour.
Escape Rooms and Economy
The economic impact of escape rooms flows from their usefulness to the world of business. Staff who understand each other, feel confident in their problem-solving skills, communicate clearly, and have a good sense of teamwork are likely to be more productive and more invested in achieving company goals.
Escape rooms are good places to enjoy intensive experiences that illustrate the links between planning and success – the incentives in Omscape’s rooms being to win freedom, escape the enemy, or foil the villain’s wicked schemes.
In addition to boosting your confidence, the knowledge you gain through the experience can put you on the path to taking charge of your career and planning routes to personal successes.
Escape Room Psychology And Society
Groups of family members, friends, co-workers, and groups of strangers can benefit from the psychology of escape rooms too.
Whether you and family, friends, or colleagues book out an experience in one of Omescape’s rooms, or you make a group booking that doesn’t take up all the spaces and are then joined by a few strangers, you’ll find that one of the most obvious benefits is all about relationships. The rooms force you to have conversations.
Escape rooms offer opportunities to build and deepen interpersonal relationships. An outing to the theatre with friends can be fun, but you’re probably not going to learn very much about the person or people you’re with.
In an escape room situation, however, you are forced to engage with one another, and to do it in a way that’s probably a little out of the ordinary for you. When you’re in a room full of family and/or friends, the communication and teamwork may follow familiar patterns, but when you’re joined by people you do not know, you’re forced to from a relationship and to assume the basic societal roles of those who follow, and those who lead.
Technology and Escape Rooms
For many of us, a great deal of the time we have for leisure or recreation in our everyday lives is limited to watching television, browsing Facebook or Instagram, gaming, or reading. All those forms of entertainment are largely or entirely passive. 3D imaging, VR, AR, and other technologies add immersive elements, but they still can’t be compared to what happens in escape rooms.
Omescape’s live-action rooms incorporate technology in the form of props and other elements, and the online rooms are made possible by tech, the experience isn’t one of sitting back and watching a special effects show.
Instead, the aesthetics of the well-designed and -crafted sets help create the perfect atmosphere in which to feel the full effects of the games. It’s not surprising, then, that people are flocking to Omescape’s London venues, as well as to other escape rooms around the world.
The trend is in line with findings in an Eventbrite survey of millennials, at least for people in that generation. According to the survey, more than 70% of respondents said their best memories were of a live experience, and 78% of respondents said they preferred spending money on experiences than on possessions.
More Than Meets The Eye
Taken at face value, the escape room experiences offered at Omescape’s London venues is an hour of fun in which you can build your friendships or your relationships with colleagues, and perhaps even make new friends, all while doing a bit of problem-solving in a themed environment.
Look closer, and you’ll find a rich psychology that can help you grow.