Improvising boosts people’s well-being and improves creative thinking, a study finds.
People asked to improvise in groups for the study used the “Yes, and…” technique of theatre improvising.
This involves accepting what your improvisation partner says and then adding to it.
For example, I say “Can you see that tiger in the distance?”
And you say: “Yes, and it is coming straight for us!”
Agreeing with your partner keeps the improvisation going, while adding something builds up the scene you are creating together.
Twenty minutes of doing improvisations like this caused people to feel more tolerant and comfortable with uncertainty.
Research has found that people who are more tolerant of uncertainty are less likely to experience mental health issues.
Improvising is not just good for theatre; it is good for life — given how much is made up as we go along.
The research involved 205 people and for one study participants either did 20 minutes of improv exercises or they practised scripted theatre.
People who improvised felt higher well-being afterwards.
Professor Colleen Seifert, study co-author, explained:
“Individuals also reported a happier mood compared to a control group, who didn’t get the same satisfaction when performing scripted tasks.”
Improvising also boosted people’s divergent creativity.
Divergent creativity refers to creating lots of potential answers to a problem.
For example, try to think of as many uses as you can for a brick.
Building a house is the obvious one, but you might also list sitting on it, using it to smash open a coconut, or painting a face on it and using it as a puppet (admittedly not a very expressive puppet!).
Professor Seifert said:
“Improvisation is shown in these experiments to produce benefits beyond every day, routine social interactions.”
The study’s authors think that improvisation is a good therapeutic option:
“As a means to enhance psychological health, improvisational theater training offers benefits without the negative stigma and difficulties in access surrounding other therapeutic interventions.
These results support its popular use beyond the theater to improve social and personal interactions in a variety of settings.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity (Felsman et al., 2020).