Alton Towers Resort announces new study on formula for a perfect kids’ day out

By pairing wearable tech with a group of fun-seeking youngsters, scientists have discovered the formula for providing children with a ‘magically thrilling’ perfect day out they will always remember – and it involves 17 minutes of thrills, 8 minutes of mental activity, 15 minutes of relaxation and 20 minutes independent play every hour.

The new study, which took place in CBeebies Land at Alton Towers Resort, involved youngsters wearing specialist smart watches to measure a range of reactions. The children undertook a range of experiences in the Land dedicated to children’s entertainment, from gentle boat rides to an exhilarating flight experience, live entertainment to rides that required cognitive interaction, to help determine the best timings and order for the ultimate reaction and recall.

It revealed that the right mix of excitement and fun while feeling calm and relaxed on a day out promotes the release of oxytocin in children’s brains – increasing empathy and trust while creating a heightened sense of happiness.

And the findings show the right order of activities takes the child through excitement and relaxation in short cycles, promoting the release of dopamine to give feelings of reward and a sense of wellbeing after a ride – while promoting ‘memory encoding’, meaning that in time, children have more chance of fondly recalling their day out by remembering key moments.  

The study involved 29 youngsters aged 4-7 each wearing a specialist medical smartwatch to measure physiological reactions including heart rate, skin conductance response – or goosebump reaction – skin temperature and motion or amount of movement, as they made their way around a carefully created route within the park.

The children – 11 boys and 18 girls – were split into groups to experience the CBeebies Land rides and attractions in various orders, and the research team monitored their emotional reactions. The groups tried five of the 12 attractions within the land which helped scientists determine the best timings and order for the ultimate reaction and recall.

Dr Eamon Fulcher, co-founder and CEO of Split Second Research has nearly 30 years’ experience as a brain scientist from Imperial College London University and ran the independent study commissioned by Alton Towers Resort.

He said: “We wanted to understand the optimum combination of rides and activities that give children the best experience by testing five different combinations – and we alternated between thrilling and relaxing rides to identify the order that provides the perfect, most memorable day out for 4 to 7-year-olds.

“Responses measured included physiological reactions like the goosebumps and butterflies that people get when they experience something magical and thrilling.”

The research was conducted ahead of the arrival of three brand-new attractions opening this Spring. The new attractions will bring free-roam play, discovery and exploration experiences and imaginative play to the Land, helping to create even more hours of fun for kids to enjoy:

–          Hey Duggee Big Adventure Badge – get active and climb, slide and bounce through interactive, sensory play areas. Join the Squirrel Club and go on a big adventure to all your favourite Hey Duggee locations, meet Duggee and receive your Big Adventure Badge and a Duggee hug

–          JoJo & Gran Gran at Homelet your curiosity run wild in JoJo and Gran Gran’s hometo play, make and explore – you can even call Great Gran Gran in Saint Lucia.

–          Andy’s Adventures Dinosaur Digcalling all young dinosaur fans; immerse yourself in prehistoric sights and sounds and see what you can dig and discover in this live interactive attraction. Visit Andy’s outpost, explore the prehistoric dig site, unearth fossils and have them analysed in the fossilator.

–          Bing Live Show – a brand-new live show with Bing and Flop for Bingsters to enjoy.

The research findings will now also be used by the theme park’s ‘magic making’ creatives to ensure CBeebies Land can always offer young thrill seekers the ultimate mix of emotions. In addition, the Land will be benefiting from the introduction of a new CBeebies Bugbies trail, which will add to the experience of families visiting CBeebies Land.

Dr Eamon Fulcher added: “The research shows that for the best day out, a child needs 17 minutes of excitement, 8 minutes of mental stimulation, 15 minutes of relaxing activity and 20 minutes independent play, or downtime doing their own thing, every hour. It’s no doubt impossible for parents to get those exact timings, but it shows the mix of activities that give children the best, most memorable experience.

“Within this ideal hour children will experience a mix of excitement and fun, and feel happy, calm and relaxed. Exciting activities are important as they promote the release of oxytocin in the brain, which is known to increase empathy and trust, and also creates a heightened sense of happiness.

“They also promote the release of dopamine giving the feeling of reward and a sense of wellbeing after an activity.”

The data was quantified using a specialist medical watch consisting of an ECG, or electro-cardiograph, which measures heart rate, and an EDA sensor (electro-dermal activity) that measures the amount of sweating, known as the skin conductance response or SCR.

Dr Fulcher added: “We discovered that the route which yields maximum excitement and pleasure is the route that begins with a relaxing ride and ends with a thrill. The relaxing start is certainly pleasurable and builds gradually as children move to the second ride.

“At this point, respondents show their first peak in excitement and pleasure, which lasts throughout the ride and even as they leave the ride and move to the next. This then gives them the chance to physically relax a little and be stimulated more cognitively. They are then ready for the final thrilling ride, where we see their second emotional peak. Hence, the child leaves on a high of excitement and pleasantness.

“During this ideal route and as children move from ride to ride, we see emotional levels rise and fall, known as emotional turning points. They reflect qualitative changes in an emotional trajectory – sudden increases or decreases in an emotional experience.

“These turning points promote memory encoding, meaning that in time, when they think of their day at CBeebies Land, they will think of these key moments.  

“Neurosciences tells us these kinds of experiences are very good for children’s development: they breed enthusiasm and joy, and such experiences are vital for building resilience and self-esteem.

Edward Neville, Creative Lead at Alton Towers Resort, said: “We can all recall magical moments and days out from our childhoods, and it’s my job to ensure we are delivering this.

“The data has come at the perfect time as we are in the process of re-imagining and developing CBeebies Land to make it even better for youngsters.  From a creative point of view, it’s been fantastic to get such insight into what children are reacting to and the impact this is having on their childhood experiences.

“We’ll be introducing new, enhanced elements within the land including an Interactive Bugbies Trail   to give children the best chance of fondly remembering their day out in years to come. Thanks to that and a bit of planning by the grown-ups, children can now experience plenty of these emotionally perfect experiences.”