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Journal Article

Could acting training improve social cognition and emotional control?


Kanske,  Philipp
Chair for Clinical Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience, Faculty of Psychology, TU Dresden, Germany;
Department Neuropsychology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;

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McDonald, B., Goldstein, T. R., & Kanske, P. (2020). Could acting training improve social cognition and emotional control? Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 14: 348. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2020.00348.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-4AAA-7
Acting is fascinating from psychological and neuroscientific perspectives, as it involves an individual creating an endogenously generated, accurate physical and verbal performance of another's emotional and cognitive states. However, despite the popularity of acting, the practice has received limited interest from cognitive neuroscience (Goldstein and Bloom, 2011, although see Brown et al., 2019), while other art forms have raised much greater attention, including music (e.g., Koelsch, 2014), visual art (e.g., Bolwerk et al., 2014), literature (e.g., Jacobs, 2015), poetry (e.g., Zeman et al., 2013), and dance (e.g., Karpati et al., 2017). Nevertheless, acting requires a range of social, cognitive and affective skills of concern to neuroscience, including memory, verbal ability, emotional control and social cognitive processes like empathy and Theory of Mind (ToM; Noice and Noice, 2006; Goldstein and Winner, 2012; Winner et al., 2013).

Two questions are of particular interest: (i) What are the neural mechanisms that allow actors to produce realistic performances of characters other than themselves? (ii) What long-term impact does acting training have on (social) neurocognition? Following Goldstein and Winner (2012), we explore how neuroscientific research into ToM, empathy, and emotional processing, is beginning to illuminate how actors manifest characters. Additionally, we propose that engagement with acting may in turn improve social competencies by inducing changes in the neural networks underlying social cognition.