About this Research Topic
Cognition, perception, consciousness, empathy, presence, authenticity and identity are all psychological processes that play an important part in theatrical acting. While these processes have been studied extensively in psychology and cognitive neuroscience, empirical research considering them in the context of theatrical performance has only recently evolved. We thus have yet limited empirical knowledge about how actors create characters, remember parts, build narrative tension, integrate unforeseen challenges on stage, or learn their craft. We also do not have knowledge on how audience members integrate the actors’ character with the individual or how they process the observed stage actions on a cognitive, neuronal level. Notably, the performing arts has much to offer to psychology in terms of studying complex contemporary questions of perception and portrayal of character and social processes. It is important to provide a platform where findings from experimental work and other empirical studies on aspects of performance in theatre and in everyday life can be shared in order to further cultivate this novel, innovative field of research.
For example, role playing, which sits at the centre of character-based theatrical stage and film performances, is the process by which people take on the role of a character different from themselves. Yet the concept of role play has a much broader scope that spans from everyday interactions to the performing arts. During social interactions, people present different “personas” of themselves as a function of context and interaction partners. This phenomenon has developmental roots in the pretend play that commonly occurs in childhood and that contributes to the establishment of the self. In theatre, actors often move beyond this by portraying consciously refined dramatic characters. Other forms of character portrayal in adolescence and adulthood occur in recent developments in gaming scenarios and social media, as well as in professional contexts in general (e.g., sales, job interviews).
Further, beyond fundamental issues around play and reception, the study of theatre practice presents a host of applications. These include the uses of role playing in psychotherapy, education, entertainment (e.g., video-game industry), and even the resolution of social conflicts (e.g., “theatre of the oppressed”). Moreover, role playing has been found to enhance empathic abilities in children and young adults as well as in individuals on the autism spectrum. Theatre practice was also found to enhance cognitive abilities in the elderly, including effects on the alleviation of symptoms in Parkinson’s disease. Thus, the relative small number of existing empirical studies show that theatre practice can have a significant positive impact on health and well-being, and enhance socio-cognitive skills.
This Research Topic aims to host empirical approaches that can shed light on the functions and properties of processes involved in theatrical performance and open up a discussion about the underpinning mechanisms; one that does justice to the richness of the topic. The aim is to encourage a multidisciplinary discussion about perceptual, cognitive, neuronal, and applied aspects of theatre practices embedded in the performing arts as well as present in everyday life. This will occur as a dialogue between researchers in psychology, neuroscience, theatre, interactive media, physiology, rehabilitation, and embodied performance practice. The Research Topic will show that the study of the theatre production and perception can provide fresh insights into the nature of human social cognition and the biological mechanisms that mediate it.
Image credit: James Long and Marcus Youssef in Winners and Losers, 2015. Photo by Simon Hayter.
Keywords: Spectator, Embodiment, Empathy, Rehabilitation, Presence
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