10 Principles of Psychology Used in Breakthrough’s Outbound Training Programs

Depicting Psychology and Outbound Training

The context of the blog is to look at the various principles of Psychology and share how they are being used in outbound training for teams in Breakthrough. Breakthrough uses the methodology of the experiential learning cycle by David Kolb. Participants are taken through experiences in the form of activities followed by, or preceded by clearly defined reflections which enable behavioural learning. Here are the 10 Principles of Psychology used in Breakthrough’s Outbound Training Programs:

1. Flow State

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura, ‘flow state’ describes a feeling where, under the right conditions, a person becomes fully immersed in whatever they are doing. Outbound training uses the concept of flow state, where the right conditions to learn are created for the participants. This is done by balancing opportunity with a willingness to act.

To bring participants to the flow state at Breakthrough we apply the concept of the Adventure Wave. Where participants are taken on a journey of experiencing non-threatening activities at the beginning of the program and through a process brought to experience activities which challenge them and enable them to step out of their comfort zones. Thereby, balancing opportunity and willingness to participate in the activities. When participants are not kept in the flow state it takes them either to a panic zone or boredom.

2. Operant Conditioning:

Operant learning is a principle that states that we learn new information as a result of the consequences of our behaviour. In the case of Outbound training, participants can see the consequences of their behaviour in a team context. They get to experience success or failure in an activity. The process of success or failure is reflected upon which helps the learning process.

3. Cognitive Control

Cognitive control is your mind’s ability to actively create an information picture that will guide your behaviour. Breakthrough’s programs are designed to build that for individuals in an organisational context. The simulative experiences and the reflection help participants to create a guide for decision-making during similar contexts that arise in the workplace. The activities are designed in such a way that they replicate challenges and experiences similar to a workplace. Yet, they have a mix of adventure and fun.

4. Familiarity Effect

The familiarity effect is described as our tendency to develop preferences for certain things just because we are familiar with them. Outbound training aims at providing exposure to participants to behaviour that they may not have experienced in the past as a team. Through the use of activity experiences, participants are provided familiarity with behaviours that the organization would want them to exhibit as a team. This opportunity to experience the behaviour makes it more possible for them to replicate behaviours back in the workplace.

5. Social proof

Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others in an attempt to reflect the right behaviour in a given situation. Since Outbound training, is done in a social setting. People get to experience positive behaviours in each other and learn from that experience. However, there may be times when based on the principle of social proof, certain behaviours which are deterimential to team success may be observed in a group. In such a scenario, based on reflective questioning the group is facilitated to understand the impact of a similar behaviours back in the workplace.

In some of Breakthrough’s activities, participants need to think beyond existing norms to arrive at a solution. Yet, on many occasions, when one of the members of the participating team is looking at an alternative solution, it tends to be seen as something to be laughed at or not to be taken seriously by a majority in the group. However, on choosing to go through the less travelled path, they find solutions. Here they get to discover for themselves that behaviours based on social proof may not be the most effective way to discover solutions.

6. Recency effect:

The recency effect is a cognitive bias in which those items, ideas, or arguments that came last are remembered more clearly than those that came first. Capitalizing on the recency effect, the debrief of an experience is done immediately after. This gives participants a chance to have a realistic reflection and thereby create a powerful learning experience.

7. Reciprocity

The principle of reciprocity, states that during social situations we tend to pay back what we received from others. In many of the activities, this principle is used where support is mutual and not one-sided. Every participant realises the need to be there for each other.

8. Social Influence

Social influence is a psychological phenomenon whereby people are influenced to think, speak, and behave in various manners based on the influence of their peers. During Outbound training participants through mental and physical challenges are given opportunities to exhibit a variety of behaviours. Through the power of social influence, participants are encouraged to learn and be influenced by positive behaviours which will be experienced in the Outbound training.

9. Iceberg Principle

According to the American Psychological Association, the more obvious reasons for behaviour or opinion are rarely a complete explanation and this is called the Iceberg Principle. Much of it lies below the surface and requires in-depth reflection or interviews. To enable teams to uncover what is below the surface, the experiential learning process enables ‘below the surface’ conversations which are instrumental in transforming teams. Experiential learning can bring about an authentic reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of a team. Team-level awareness leads to behaviour modification.

On one occasion, a team leader was seen by her team, to be causing a lot of challenges to them. Breakthrough sessions helped her realize that she was causing problems for the team all along. She then realized, the need to change. That is the power of ‘below the surface’ experiences and conversations.

10. Psychological Reactance

The strong emotional response that we experience when we feel that our freedom of choice is being taken away when we expect that we should have the choice is known as psychological reactance. Breakthrough’s programs are designed in such a way that the choice to participate is based on the philosophy of ‘Challenge by Choice’ by Karl Rohnke, Project Adventure (2000). Based on this, a participant can choose to sit out in an activity and this right is to be respected by others in the group and instructors. The freedom of choice is given to the participants to override psychological reactance.


Outbound training, as an industry although perceived to be fun and engaging, holds the key to team learning. It even caters to a generation which has an extremely short attention span and keeps them engaged. Applications of the principles of psychology ensures a scientific method in the way this impact is created for teams and leaders. When business leaders identify behavioural drivers which hold the key to business impact. Programs can be designed applying these principles in order to create business impact. Do reach out to us if you are interested in designing an outbound training program for your teams or leaders.


Islands of Healing by Jim Schoel and Dick Prouty & Paul Radcliff

Principles of Social Psychology, University of Minnesota