Science of Disney · Uncategorized

Science of Disney: Collecting

Disney fans might be some of the biggest collectors out there – whether its autographs, mugs, pins (my personal obsession and even the subject of this paper) or memorabilia of all sorts (looking at you, John Stamos). Disney has definitely capitalized on human tendency to want to collect things. But why do we collect?

Let’s Ask Neuroscience

Fundamentally, the reason that we do anything is because we receive a reward – typically a release of the neurotransmitter (which is just another name for a chemical in the brain) called dopamine – for doing something that satisfies a need. For example, when we eat Dole Whip, in addition to our digestive system breaking down the fats and sugars of the vegan soft-serve treat, our brain releases several molecules of dopamine that make us feel happy. The same kind of reward likely (I haven’t’ found any research studies looking at brains of collectors) occurs when a collector acquires a new item for his or her collection, which reinforces collecting as a desirable behavior.

First Time Having Dole Whip

Dopamine is also released during the process of expecting a reward. Based on studies with rats learning to obtain food, scientists at the University of Michigan found increased levels of dopamine in the mesolimbic area of rats’ brains in the steps leading up to receiving a pellet of sugar, including during the time in which the rat was literally taking steps towards the other side of the cage where the sugar was located. So dopamine in this area increases once I begin on writing a paper because the goal state of the paper being finished is that much closer. Is it possible that the same kind of process is at work during the several steps of collecting?


Much of our understanding of collecting comes from what we know about when collecting goes a step too far (have I used enough step colloquialisms yet?) and turns into hoarding. Hoarding is defined as collecting that interferes with an ability to use a room for its intended purpose. A few theories have been put forth as to why people start, continue, and find it hard to stop hoarding and dopamine plays a role here too.

One of the theories that seems to explain the other theories attributes hoarding behavior to differences in brain activity that underlie deficits in decision-making. The areas of the brain that are responsible for decision-making are found in the front-most part, called the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is connected with many other parts of the brain, including dopamine pathways. However, exactly how the prefrontal cortex differentially affects dopamine changes in the mesolimbic area for hoarders versus collectors is not yet well understood.

Collecting Stories

Even though we know what parts of the brain are involved in hoarding and a little bit about how dopamine works in rats trying to obtain rewards, this isn’t quite the whole story about why we collect. Before we had fancy brain scanning techniques to study dopamine changing second by second, researchers used interviews to figure out why people are motivated to collect. Some of the most common reasons for collecting were:

1. Arranging and re-arranging – I think this is one of the biggest reasons I collect pins. I love figuring out how I want to display them either on pin boards or lanyards to take into the parks whether the lanyard is meant for trading with others or to just engender conversations with other park-goers.


2. Social interaction as a result of collecting – The joy I get from arranging my pins ties into the social motivation of collecting through the conversations and memories I’ve made in the parks as a result of collecting pins but there are also lots of online and in-person communities to join and interact with for each unique collection. With so many Disney fans, every collector is bound to find someone to show off to or discuss with.

3. Competition and status over others – But there is another side to the social interaction that motivates other collectors who enjoy when they sense that they have moved up in the ranks of best collection. Bragging about acquiring a rare find for a great deal can make for a good story but also has effects on the storyteller’s and the listener’s dopamine pathways.

4. Investing – There are several Disney collectors who purchase rare items so they can sell them for a profit later. Often this can coincide with being motivated by acquiring knowledge of a particular kind of collection – more expert collectors know when to buy and sell items in a collection to turn the most profit and receive the greatest monetary and neural reward.

4. Sentimental value – Like most good souvenirs, items in a collection may have been rewarding to the collector because of the emotions or memory connected with them, whether past or future – some collectors collect because they want to leave a legacy and know that their items will live on past them. My personal pin collection is not solely for this reason. I deliberately try not to buy things just for them to remind me of one trip in particular and I often trade for pins rather unceremoniously with strangers on the Internet, but the act of finding a trading partner, going to the post office to mail a pin, and checking the tracking status of my incoming pin are most definitely ensuring that I will do it again and again.

So why do we collect? It could be any or all of the reasons I’ve discussed today. Or maybe we’re just following in Walt’s footsteps – he was quite the collector after all. Maybe we should examine the dopamine pathways left in his brain after all of these years…

What do you collect and why do you enjoy collecting? Let me know in the comments below and thanks for reading!

Anderson, S. W., Damasio, H., & Damasio, A. R. (2004). A neural basis for collecting behaviour in humans. Brain128(1), 201-212.
Hamid, A. A., Pettibone, J. R., Mabrouk, O. S., Hetrick, V. L., Schmidt, R., Vander Weele, C. M., … & Berke, J. D. (2016). Mesolimbic dopamine signals the value of work. Nature neuroscience19(1), 117.
Lafferty, B. A., Matulich, E., & Liu, M. X. (2014). Exploring worldwide collecting consumption behaviors. Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies8, 1.
McIntosh, W. D., & Schmeichel, B. (2004). Collectors and collecting: A social psychological perspective. Leisure Sciences26(1), 85-97.
Tolin, D. F., Stevens, M. C., Villavicencio, A. L., Norberg, M. M., Calhoun, V. D., Frost, R. O., … & Pearlson, G. D. (2012). Neural mechanisms of decision making in hoarding disorder. Archives of general psychiatry69(8), 832-841.
If you need help with hoarding, please see the following site:


Disney Tips · Disney Trips · Uncategorized

Trip Review: First time at Pandora in Animal Kingdom

In late September, I visited Pandora at Animal Kingdom for the first time! Read on for my review!

General Impression – Daytime

The floating mountains were not quite breath-taking but they nevertheless made for some pretty stunning shots against the Florida sky.


As soon as I stepped into Pandora, the My Disney Experience app notified me that I could help out Alpha Centauri Expeditions (click for the backstory on ACE from the D23 convention in 2015) by searching for fauna and flora. It was supposed to link via Facebook Messenger but my Messenger app was being buggy so this did not quite work. I think would have enjoyed it and look forward to seeing how this extra bit of immersive theming works in the future.

Phd Pointer: There are a few spots scattered along the paths where the Pandoran wildlife will interact with you if you move just right!

Na’vi River Journey

Queue: I had a FP+ for this ride but ended up only riding it via standby during Early Magic Hours. It was under a 60 minute wait when I got in line around 8:15. The theming of the queue was really impressive and quite fun. Absolutely everything – from the centerpoint of the circular queue, the roof, the surrounding walls, to the ties on the queue fences – appeared to be woven from real reeds and leaves of some sort and actually felt like the right texture. Additionally, there were plaques mounted on the queue fences describing various flora and fauna of Pandora but the line was moving so quickly that I hardly had time snap a picture much less read the actual information. I think these would be useful for participating in the immersive piece I mentioned above because it would help you identify the right plant when you’re walking around.

Ride: Because I was traveling alone, I was placed in the front row of a boat with the couple in front of me, with another group of strangers sitting in the back row. The scenery was quite beautiful and there was a ton to look at in every scene. In a few places, there are a couple of mesh screens at various depths with different creatures projected onto them to give a 3-D effect. Although the animations make it so each ride through might have something different to see, the screens were not even close to transparent so the mechanics of the effect were very obvious. Many of the lights responsible for the luminescent effects were also quite visible if you were looking for them. But not everything was completely de-mystified. Keeping my head on a swivel, I noticed that there were even glowing plants in the water! One of my favorite effects were the suspended flowing lily pads closer to the end that seemed to have creatures jumping to and fro on them!

The shaman at the end was just as impressive as people were saying she was. The arm movements were very fluid and she is huge! But the most impressive piece for me was the tiny facial movements that made even the smallest lip twitch possible so that she truly looked like she was singing along. I did not really notice the music until the shaman was visible but the continuation of the music and theming throughout the last stretch of cave before returning to the loading zone was a nice cherry on top of a lovely ride.

PhD Pointer: Ride this with kids at night! They’re more likely to get the feeling that they’re actually still outside in Pandora!

Flight of Passage

Queue: My friend and I entered the standby queue around 5:15 pm with a posted wait time of approximately 120 minutes. Thankfully, the end of the queue at this time was approximately 20 yards inside the regular queue area rather than all the way at the front entrance of Pandora. Looking up at the waterfalls was nice too because it was a much closer view than from outside the queue and Imagineers used the forced perspective trick quite well.

The queue moved very very slowly. Although being outside allowed us to marvel at the engineering and construction of the floating mountains and admire the emergent and hand-crafted nature of the paths, there were stretches of fifteen minutes where we felt like we did not move at all. Once inside the caves, it felt like we moved even slower and a cast member said we would still have approximately another hour and a half to wait.


The queue was well-crafted in that they do a really good job at hiding how much farther you are from the front of the ride. Each room you go into, you think you’re that much closer. Be warned, you aren’t close until you’re in the room with the lab equipment and Avatar and you still might have to wait another 30 minutes from that point. However, I was very confused as to what the story of the queue was – we went from the natural beauty of Pandora, through some caves to what looked like some overgrown bunkers before entering the lab and hangar. If someone could please explain the story, that would be greatly appreciated!

When we were about halfway through the queue, the announcements that the ride was not operating at full capacity began and continued for the next hour. In total, we ended up waiting for about 3 hours instead of the 2 hours we were expecting.

Ride: I consider the ride to start from the terribly acted pre-show that you watch once you are directed to your number. I got overly excited and participatory during the avatar and banshee matching process and they seemed to do a good job of actually matching the features of the avatar to the person. One complaint is that we did not actually get to see our banshee which I think are some of the most majestic creatures in the whole Avatar universe (for now). Actually getting into the seats for the ride itself was a bit of a struggle for the non-English speaking people in our group so I would encourage others to be patient and help the cast members help these guests so you can board more efficiently. I found the seat to be quite comfortable and secure, but the 3D glasses were quite large and slipped down my nose any time I tried to glance down.

Once the flashing lights distracted us from the screen becoming visible, the views of Pandora were breath-taking and very thrilling. I actually felt like I was flying for a good portion of the ride. All of the little effects, from feeling your banshee’s breathing, to the wind in your face, and the gentle spray from waterfalls and crashing waves were really enjoyable but not quite magical. I could still look around and see other people sitting on bikes and the picture wasn’t as crisp or enchanting as I remember the movie being when I watched it years ago. The soundtrack was nice but not as moving as I thought it would be.

Overall, I still like Soarin’ more as a ride because of the music, the smells, and the lack of annoying 3-D glasses. I would wait in line again for this ride for two hours max, but definitely not three.

PhD Pointer: You might not like this ride if you aren’t a fan of heights! Motion sickness is less of a concern than Star Tours.

General Impression – Nighttime

The land seemed much much darker than I anticipated from everyone’s pictures of the bioluminescence. It was hard to see my friend a few feet away because there were so few lights turned on; I am not sure if it was because I got out of Flight of Passage a few minutes after 9 pm (park closing) or if the land is always like this at night but I would recommend trying to come as soon as the sun sets for optimal night time exploration.

PhD Pointer: Be careful with younger kids at night; it can be easy to lose sight of each other!

The few plants that we could see illuminated were really pretty but the ground was not as luminescent as I thought it would be. The black lights weren’t as precisely directed as they were in the River Journey ride so white and light colored clothing of passers-by also glowed which took a bit away from the overall effect (but made my already glow-in-the-dark shirt with a zebra glow even more!).



As soon as I got to Animal Kingdom for Early Magic Hours, I was allowed into the left paths through the Oasis. I believe guests without Early Magic Hours were still let through the gates but had to wait just inside the entrance. There were definitely other people in the park but it did not seem too crazy (granted, I’ve only been to Animal Kingdom one other time and that was during the week before Christmas).

During Early Magic Hours, Flight of Passage was over an hour wait, closer to 2 hours, and I had a dining reservation that I would miss if I got in line. Throughout the day, the wait for Flight of Passage was consistently between 120 and 180 minutes long, hovering around 150 most often. As I was leaving Na’Vi River Journey right around 9 AM when the park opened to all guests, cast members were alternating between allowing people in the queue to cross a through-path and letting people on the through-path walk past the queue. Walking along the path from Pandora to Harambe Village, the queue was on both sides of the path with only a third of the path allocated for people to walk-through. There was a drink and ice cream cart conveniently stationed just before the Harambe restrooms.

Na’Vi River Journey was always a shorter wait than Flight of Passage but not by much. I was never inclined to give up something else in Animal Kingdom for Na’Vi River Journey because the rest of the attractions were all under an hour wait.

PhD Pointer: Go to the bathroom near Satu’li Canteen right near the exit from the ride before getting in line! It’s a very long line with a water fountain (and water bottle re-fill!) but no restrooms.

The area itself did not feel too crowded at any point but the paths were difficult to navigate – I only accidentally found Satu’li Canteen without trying but the outside tables looked pretty full around 5:30 pm.

Next Trip!

I unfortunately did not have an opportunity to try any of the Pandoran food because I had other reservations in Animal Kingdom that I was really REALLY excited for (I’ll write about them soon in another post!). Even though I got to the Pongu Pongu window as soon as I could after our 3 hour wait for Flight of Passage, I was a minute too late and the manager said they were closing. I will have to try that Night Blossom drink some other time! I would have also loved to spend more time absorbing the general ambiance during dusk.

Overall Impression: Accept with minor revisions!

What did you like most or what are you most excited about Pandora?