What studies of actors and acting can tell us about memory and cognitive functioning.

Noice, H. & Noice T. (2006). What studies of actors and acting can tell us about memory and cognitive functioning. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(1), 14-18.

Abstract:

The researchers reviewed 100 protocols of actors’ descriptions of their processes for performing a task and analyzed relevant studies to learn about actors’ script-acquisition strategies. They then taught identified techniques to participants and assessed the participants’ results through either comparison to control group participants or performance on pre/post-tests. They found that theatrical work can be used to slow cognitive decline for older adults. Working to memorize and act out lines from a script helped study participants with problem solving and word recall. From a theoretical perspective, the authors highlighted new theories that could provide conceptual frameworks for future studies on actors.

Key Findings:

The authors developed the term “active experiencing” (AE) to describe the process of someone using “all physical, mental, and emotional channels to communicate the meaning of material to another person, either actually present or imagined” (p. 15). They discovered AE after two studies with undergraduates on determining which script acquisition skills were most successful when taught to non-actors.

Pre/posttest results from several four-week interventions with 65 to 90 year old participants engaged in a theater intervention involving AE showed participants improved problem solving and word recall in comparison to controls and participants in an alternate intervention.

Significance of the Findings:

The findings of the study indicate that theatrical work can be used to slow cognitive decline for older adults. Working to memorize and act out lines from a script helped study participants with problem solving and word recall. From a theoretical perspective, the authors highlighted new theories that could provide conceptual frameworks for future studies on actors.

Methodology:

The authors engaged in three phases of research. During the first phase, they reviewed 100 protocols (actors’ descriptions of their processes for performing a task) and analyzed relevant studies to learn about actors’ script-acquisition strategies. The authors then ran studies and taught what seemed to be the most successful techniques to participants. The participants’ results were assessed through either comparison to control group participants or performance on pre/posttests. The third phase of research was a return to theory and comparing study findings to existing relevant research.

Limitations of the Research:

This article is not the result of one planned study, but a connection of several studies and research work completed by the authors over a 20-year period. While its findings are promising, the guiding theories could benefit from additional testing.

Questions to Guide New Research:

What neural mechanisms are involved in acting? What cognitive skills in children, and adults of all ages, could script-acquisition strategies help increase?