Escape Theory

2020.12.31.

So just what is "Escape Theory"? essentially, it's the behavior people engage in to avoid a certain physical location. So it can be used when you want to remove yourself from a place like a prison or an escape room. But it's also used to describe the behaviors used to escape from any negative perceptions of the self. So, though physical escape might help someone remove themselves from a physical location in the short term, it will lead to undesirable behavior patterns in those who are trying to escape from the self.

Escape Theory History and Background

There's been a long and fruitful history of studying people and the way they view themselves as part of their behavior. And the subject falls under the official heading of "Escape Theory Social Psychology." We all carry a social construct of ourselves. This helps form our identity. Most of this comes from the feedback we receive when our identity falls short of, equals, or exceeds expectations. On the whole, escape theory deals with the behaviors that people have when part of their social construct takes a hit. Most people, on discovering an unpleasant or unflattering aspect to themselves, will start to narrow their focus onto matters at hand to avoid any discussion of the problematic areas of their personality. 

It's been shown that people construct both high and low levels of self meaning. A high level correlates towards comparing one's self to a broad range of personal and social standards, including how current behavior might affect events in the future. The opposite is true of those with low self constructs, who tend to narrow their focus to become aware of the immediate present. If we look at taking an exam for example. With a high level of meaning, the exam represents a means of fulfilling a life-long goal of gaining academic and career success. Whereas at a low level, the same exam is nothing more than an exercise in hand to eye muscle coordination. It's been suggested that people shirt their level of awareness to a lower level of meaning when parts of their own identity don't meet the standards which are considered to be socially approved. Also, people tend to prefer a lower level of awareness if they've experienced stress or failure. 

Six Main Steps in Escape Theory

Escape theory can be organized into six major steps. The first is that the person experiences an outcome that leads them to understand that they've fallen far below the standards that are normally exposed as normal. They then blame these failures and disappointing outcomes on internal aspects of their sense of self, rather than blaming them on situational factors. Thirdly, the person begins to recognize that these outcomes paint a self-portrait of incompetence, unattractiveness, or inadequacy. This leads in turn to the realization that they have fallen far sort of the desired expectations. The fifth level is that the person seeks to escape from the negative psychological reaction by not thinking in a high-level and meaningful way. Finally, the sixth level means that as a consequence of this avoidance of meaningful thought, the result will be a lack of restraint and may well give rise to unsociable or undesirable behavior.  

These six steps are interconnected in that there is a causal process that is dependent on each step. You will only see undesirable behavior if all the steps are followed. If one is missing, by, for example, the person laming situational factors as opposed to personal ones, then the result will not be undesirable behavior. To that end, escaping from the self is a relatively uncommon response.

Applying Escape Theory to Behavioral Outcomes

Escape theory can be applied to several behavioral outcomes. And though these behaviors do produce immediate results, they are making a path for long term negative consequences. A good example would be suicide. This is considered probably the ultimate attempt to escape the self. Many suicide attempts are a result of shifting into a low level of meaning to avoid the negative emotions that are the result of not achieving the desired goal. Alcohol abuse is another tool that helps enable the person to escape from negative thoughts about the self as it reduces the possibility of the drinker from processing complex information at a higher level. It renders the user incapable of making a comparison between their current predicament and both the social and self-imposed standards of desirable behavior.

Escape Theory and Binge Eating

We can also apply escape theory to the habit of binge eating. We can follow the six-part steps of the whole process. The first thing that happens is that the person realizes that they are not meeting their self-imposed weight-loss goals. Then for the second phase, the person blames themselves for being incompetent as opposed to focusing on external factors that might have contributed to their lack of progress. Going into the third phase, the person starts to reflect that their ability to lose weight is a bad reflection on themselves as a person. They have failed at being both competent and attractive. After realizing that their current body weight doesn't meet their desired body weight. Fifth, they then shift their level of awareness to a low level, where they obsess over sensations and objects in their current environment to escape the negative emotions that come from the realization that goals have not been met. Finally, for the sixth step, this focus on the immediate aspects of their current environment will reduce the tenancy for the person to consider the long-term consequences of their behavior. As a direct result, this lack of restraint will then lead to typically antisocial behaviors, such as binge eating. 

Escape Theory and Escape Room games

And how can we tie this behavior to escape room games? Well, it's seen so often in the gameplay. We have seen, again and again, how so-called "leaders" enter the game, and by the end of the escape room experience end up as "followers". These hyper-confident players can be so easily derailed by what might appear to be the easiest puzzle. In the beginning, they are the first to blame everyone else, from the other players to the game designer. But as they proceed through the game, they fail at more and more of the riddles and fail to find any clues. Now at this point, they begin to question themselves. After all, they entered the room boasting of how easy these games were, and yet here we are, and they haven't solved one puzzle. Now they are shifting into a lower level of awareness. They will start to mess with the clues, claiming that they are bored, what a waste of money these lame escape room games are, almost wanting to sabotage the whole game. Within a matter of minutes, they become unbearable to play with. For us, it's one hour of suffering. But for them, they have to live with themselves!

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