Project Detail
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Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) logo

Does training in acting foster theory of mind, empathy, and emotion regulation?  

Training in theater requires that one take the perspective of other characters. Actors must analyze their characters' mental worlds (theory of mind), experience their characters' emotions (empathy), and exert control over their own emotions (emotion regulation). The study of acting can therefore provide a new way to understand how these key interpersonal and personal abilities are learned. Two studies will test the hypothesis that theater training fosters these abilities in children and adolescents. Study 1 will investigate how acting teachers train these skills in 8-10 year-olds and 13-15 year-olds. Theater classes for these age groups will be videotaped and analyzed to determine the habits of mind taught. Study 2 will follow these two age groups over the course of one school year, comparing those receiving theater training (40 in each age group) vs. a control group receiving visual arts training (40 in each age group). A set of tests will be administered in early fall 2008, and in late spring 2009 to assess skill in understanding others' minds, empathy, and emotion regulation. A comparison of the two groups at the beginning of the year will reveal whether those who choose to take acting classes come to this endeavor with already heightened skill in these three areas. A comparison of the two groups after a full year of study will tell us whether, to what extent, and in what way acting training increases these three target skills. The ability to infer what another individual believes and feels, the proclivity to feel empathy, and the ability to exert control over one's emotions in a positive way are undeniably important social and emotional skills. These skills develop throughout childhood and adolescence, with some individuals (e.g., psychotherapists, negotiators, leaders) reaching higher levels than others. A demonstration that acting training can lead to expertise in these abilities would have clear practical and educational implications. Such understanding could lead to the development of intervention strategies for children and adolescents deficient in understanding others (e.g. individuals with autism spectrum disorder), deficient in empathy (e.g. bullies), and deficient in emotion regulation (e.g. those with depression or aggression disorders). The research could also lead to intervention strategies for typical children and adolescents, as the skills in question here are of value to individuals of any age, whether in school, in the family, among friends, or in the workplace. Project Status


Funder National Science Foundation
Fiscal Year Funding $99,785.00
Current Award Period 2008-2010
Project Number 841047
Principal Investigator Winner, Ellen
Received ARRA Funding? No
Strategic Plan Question Question 4: Which Treatments And Interventions Will Help? (Treatments)
Subcategory Behavioral
Strategic Plan Objective 4O. Not specific to Question 4 objectives
Federal or Private? Federal
Institution Boston College
State/Country Massachusetts
Web Link 1 Does training in acting foster theory of mind, empathy, and emotion regulation? (External web link)
Web Link 2 Does training in acting foster theory of mind, empathy, and emotion regulation? (External web link)
Web Link 3 No URL available.
History/Related Projects N/A