Decoded: How Disney Are Masters of the Psychology of Waiting in Lines

How Disney mastered the psychology of waiting in lines

No one likes waiting in line. Yet, at Disney, they have made waiting in line into an art form. And in this article, we are going to decode the Disney line waiting experience and look at lessons that can be applied to your business.

In this article, you’ll find out:

  • How Disney uses behavioral economics to ensure customers remain happy in very long lines.
  • The secret employee technique that Disney use to make upset customers smile.
  • The brain hacking methods used by Disney to ensure customers leave their parks happy.
  • The photo method of how you only remember the good and not the bad.
  • How Disney makes lines appear to move faster than they do.
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How To Use Emotional Design to Keep Customers Happy 

When you arrive at a Disney Resort Hotel, staff greet you at the door, holding it open and cheerfully engaging with visitors as they enter.

The moment you reach the inside of one of the theme parks, there is upbeat, happy music, shops with colourful designs and the view of the Disney Castle in the distance. There is even a bakery at Disney Florida, where the lovely smell of freshly baked cookies hits you as soon as you enter the park. None of this is by accident.

In fact, this engineering process has a name. Emotional Design

First coined by author and Professor Donald A. Norman, Emotional Design is the process of using design to create emotions which result in positive customer experiences. Or to quote Professor Norman, “attractive things work better, or they certainly make one’s perceptions more forgiving”. 

Disney knows that unhappiness spreads like wildfire and can quickly infect an entire group and even bystanders.

Well, Disney are masters of emotional design. Disney hits guests right away with emotional design elements that make customers happy from the moment they set foot in the parks . (If you have never been to a Disney theme park, it is difficult to explain just how magical entering a park feels.  It genuinely feels like you have been transported to a different world).

However, you could argue that it is the human interactions within Disney that really make the experience an incredible one. Disney trains employees to look for upset guests and interact with them to keep them happy. They know that unhappiness spreads like wildfire and can quickly infect an entire group and even bystanders.

So, when a Disney cast member (they refer to their staff as cast members) greets you in their parks with a smile and some cheerful conversation, it can quickly change a situation from one of doom and gloom to one of smiles and happiness.

This pivotal moment works on several levels.

Firstly, we have the rule of reciprocation, made famous by Professor Robert B. Cialdini in his classic book, 'Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion'. 

  • How-to Guide
Reciprocity: What to Give and How to Give It to Make Customer Buy
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The rule states that we should try and pay in kind what another person has provided us on a behavioural level. So, when someone is cheerful with us, we tend to be pleasant to them too.

But that's not where the genius of this Disney customer interaction ends. Because not only do they prime guests to be in a good mood, they also eliminate confusion.

The cast member can answer questions, give advice and even offer help and directions. 

This action eliminates stress from the guest because unhappiness stems from fear of the unknown and uncertainty.

On the surface, this simple Disney interaction would seem an unnecessary expense. But Disney understands a day at a theme park can be a tiring experience for guests both young and old. By having staff engage in emotional work such as this, they prime their guests to remain happy even as they spend hours standing in line for theme park rides. 

However, the behavioural science doesn't end there. Next, we will look at how design plays a massive part in the Disney queue experience.

How To Make Lining Up For Hours Seem Far Less Longer

Before we learn how Disney has revolutionized their theme park queueing systems, we need to dive deep into the science of time and distance.

When it comes to time and distance, there are 2 essential aspects to understand. First, physicists measure physical aspects of time and distance. But secondly, how we perceive them as individuals is a psychological process that is based on context.

Think about it. Have you ever reached a destination and thought, "that didn't take as long as I expected". Or has a 9-hour flight seemed to take half that time because you watched several great films onboard?

Disney knows how our brains process time. And they have gone to great effort to ensure that they make standing in line feel far less long than it actually is. But how do they do this?

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