By: Aleya Arziz Marzuki (Bugle Team)

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of one-off events like circuses and funfairs? What work goes into creating the magic you see? What do organisers and volunteers have to deal with before the show can begin? If this has intrigued you, read on!

The Experiment, which was run by Lottolab, was a one-night only affair consisting of interactive psychological experiments. The goal of this event was to challenge and redefine the public’s concept of normality. In other words, change people’s views of the world which are entirely subjective and shaped by personal experiences.

The Experiment was advertised on Lottolab’s website, advising guests to bring warm clothes, flat shoes, and an open mind. Comfortable attire was indeed essential as the venue happened to be the Clerkenwell House of Detention. It had all the traits of a haunted dungeon, equipped with grimy walls, uneven floors, and haunting passageways.

Here are some important lessons about event planning learned in the 12 hours I spent underground.

Lesson #1: Showbiz and psychological experiments are far from glamorous

The thrill of working in a dungeon quickly transitioned from awesome to tedious as I was placed on mop duty, a task which one of my supervisors proclaimed as a ‘shit job’. The walls were practically weeping, as though they resented the human intrusion.

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Aside from mopping, other tasks had to be done such as labelling spit tubes and positioning props. Specific jobs for the night were delegated to volunteers such as recording the experiments going on and assisting with the experimenters by keeping time or monitoring participants’ heart rates. As for me, I was chosen to be a chaperone which mostly entailed interacting with guests and looking like a crazed fan at a Kiss concert (see evidence below).

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A portion of the night was spent discovering how troublesome working with people is. There were a few uncooperative participants who refused to sign the consent form before entering the event space, or provide saliva samples for one of the experiments. I also became increasingly aware of my own lack of charisma in trying to get participants psyched for the experiments. Nonetheless, a majority of participants were already excited to be a part of the studies which gave volunteers and organisers the drive to make it worth their while.

 Lesson #2: Timing is of the essence

What is the most important detail when you have four simultaneous experiments which need to be run on four groups of participants, and two hours to do it all?

If you answered ‘timing’, then congratulations! As any magician would say, timing is of dire importance if you are to keep your audience on their toes. Timing was essential for us in keeping our guests engaged and ensuring all the data gathered was viable.

The tricky part of the night was ensuring that every participant had a chance to join every experiment. In theory, this was to be achieved by having four experimental cycles. Groups A, B, C, D would join experiments A,B,C,D respectively for 15 minutes. Afterwards, the groups would be allocated to a different combination of experiments. Rinse and repeat.

Bottom line, it did not go according to plan. The registration process took longer than expected which resulted in less time available to complete the experiments. Some of the experiments ran for too long which further constrained time. Regrettably, this escalated into participants only taking part in a fraction of the experiments instead of all of them.

Lesson #3: Experimentation rules!

The experiments were the saving grace of the night. The experimenters consistently engaged with the participants, informing them of the phenomena being tested and why specific behaviours take place. This made the event feel more like a platform to educate the public, rather than just a fancy laboratory.

Here are a few of the studies that took place:

  • Power: This experiment demonstrated the importance of how one carries oneself. Participants were told to position themselves in one of two poses. One was a high power position where the participant would stand up straight, hands on hips, and head held high. The low power pose involved being hunched over in a submissive position. Those in the high power position had raised confidence and adrenaline levels, which were measured through saliva samples. ‘Low power’ participants, unfortunately, endured a lack of confidence and an increase in stress.
  • Group Play: Only Daniel Richardson could come up with an experiment that involved a group of people working together to complete a Flash software game to look at how being part of a group affected performance levels in the game. Those who had read a paragraph out loud together as a group were expected to do better than those who read the paragraph each at their own pace.
  • Synchronicity: Participants were released on to the floor of Clerkenwell’s very own underground night club, which unbeknownst to them, was yet another human laboratory! Volunteers were to code movements as well as social interactions, looking out for the effects of synchronicity on group bonding. Dancing as a group resulted in members of the group mimicking each other’s wicked dance moves. I observed people kicking furiously to the beat, a couple of solo tango dancers and sudden impromptu limbo contests.

As a volunteer, I enjoyed working under the folks at Lottolab. They had a sense of fun that was infectious. Also, they really care about making their volunteers feel included. By the end of it, the Experiment felt like it was our own and we were desperate to see it succeed.

Nonetheless, the preparation blunders cannot be ignored. Advanced planning would have made this event spectacular. Perhaps the idea of running several experiments simultaneously was a little ambitious.

All in all, I urge readers to check out more of Lottolab’s events at lottolab.org as they really do organise some interesting stuff.

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