How Does Disney Trick Visitors’ Brains So Queue Times Are Fleeting?

Waiting in line can be a test for even the most patient, but Disney, “the happiest place on Earth”, has been able to make the longest lines go by in a flash. All it takes is three tricks to trick the brain:

For example, when you’re waiting in line to play Space Mountain, the walls will separate visitors and create a zigzag line. This keeps you from knowing exactly how many people are in line, and discourages the urge to pull out of the seemingly endless line.

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Once you’re in line, Disney’s “fantasy engineers” distract you from trying to figure out how long you’re in line. ‘They turn the waiting area into your own experience of a dizzyingarray of stories and decorations,’ says Richard Larson, a queue expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When you’re immersed in it, waiting time seems less important — a phenomenon known as the “two-task paradigm,” in which an exciting environment increases the amount of work your brain does.

The final trick to trick the brain is “time distortion”. For example, the sign on the line says there’s an hour to wait, but you’ll always reach the finish line before then. Larson calls it a “Machiavellian twist,” because the line goes faster than we expected, so we feel like we’ve earned a few minutes. And instead of waiting in line at the DMV, the end of the line would be a high-speed rocket ride through the Galaxy.