Directors: Antonio M. Battro and Kurt W. Fischer
Program officer: María Lourdes Majdalani
Acting Classes Enhance Social Cognitive Skills
Theatre theorists have often suggested that actors must empathize with their characters, and must understand their characters’ mental states. It thus seems plausible that training in acting would foster both empathy and theory of mind (Goldstein, 2009; Goldstein & Winner, 2010). Previous studies have demonstrated that actors have superior levels of theory of mind (and some have also demonstrated superior levels of empathy), but these studies were correlational in design and did not allow a causal inference (Goldstein, Wu & Winner, 2009-2010). The author will discuss a recent longitudinal study in which children aged 8-10 and 13-15 were measured on their theory of mind acuity and empathy levels, and then engaged in 10 months of acting or other arts training. At the end of this period, all children in the acting lessons had increased their levels of empathy, and the adolescents had also increased their theory of mind acuity. These findings shed light on how theory of mind and empathy can be strengthened in typical individuals, and implications for those lacking in empathy and theory of mind (e.g., autistic or sociopathic individuals) will be discussed.